Sunday 22 July 2018

Wilson justifies elevation to help Ireland stop the rot by slaying Scots

Ireland's Gary Wilson in action. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Ireland's Gary Wilson in action. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Ger Siggins

It has not been a good fortnight for Cricket Ireland, as the senior sides clocked up six heavy defeats, but they had some respite with the men's 46-run T20 international win over Scotland in Deventer last night.

The women's XI have never been as outclassed as they were by New Zealand in a nightmare one day international trilogy. The Black Ferns racked up three of the four highest scores ever made, each game won by 300+ runs. Exams, work and injury robbed Laura Delany of some key performers, but the talent pool looks shallower than many hoped. The World T20 qualifier in Holland next month had looked straightforward but one opponent, Thailand, beat Sri Lanka last week so nothing can be taken for granted.

Ireland's men have 18 months before they need worry about a T20 qualifier, but Graham Ford now knows what he needs to do before then. "We need to improve quite a lot," he admitted.

This week saw Ireland's first short-form outings under the new coach, and he can't have been hugely impressed.

Ireland have won just four of their last 16 T20Is, but don't be fooled that these were Daithí v Goliath clashes. The defeats were at the hands of Afghanistan (five), Netherlands (three), Oman, Hong Kong, UAE and Papua New Guinea.

The Dutch - missing nine first-choice players - continued their five-match winning streak during the week, but Ireland's slide was slowed by victory over a Scots side still buzzing after beating England last Sunday.

Gary Wilson decision to bat was rewarded with 205-5, with three batsmen making 50, only the third time that has occurred in 659 T20Is.

Paul Stirling, in top form with Middlesex but keen for some runs in green, smashed 51 off 28 balls before he was caught on the rope. Ireland's white ball game has relied for some time on the pugnacious 27-year-old, but this was only his second 50 in 16 T20 innings.

Andrew Balbirnie has struggled to impose himself in this format and his strike-rate of just above 100 is not good enough for a top-order batsman. However, he has been in excellent form this summer (except, unfortunately, in the Test) and continued that with his first T20I 50, 74 off 40 balls, in his 17th game.

There has been much talk of strike-rates since the selectors cited them to justify the elevation of Wilson to captain of the T20 side before this series. The Derbyshire man was singled out as having the best strike-rate, 156, over the last two years. His recent struggles provoked scepticism, but he rose to the challenge this week and his 45no on Wednesday and 59 yesterday showed some steel with which his coach can work.

Ford knows there's no short-term fix, too. "There's a lot of hard work needs to be done and the boys are up for it, but it's about sharpening the skills before the next World Twenty20 Qualifiers. The talent is there, it's all about fine tuning it," he told Cricket Europe this week.

The spinners combined to take 9-0-51-4 with George Dockrell continuing his revival with an excellent 2-15 as Scotland were restricted to 159-5.

Despite that result, Ireland won't be budging too far from their world ranking of 17th, below UAE, Hong Kong and Oman. And there's no respite around the corner as India arrive for two near sell-out games in Malahide in a fortnight. Ireland's opponents will be ruthless - as they just showed by demolishing Phil Simmons' Afghanistan in less than two days.

Ireland play Scotland again today, and have one last opportunity to sharpen up, against Sussex at Arundel next weekend. That is part of Ed Joyce's testimonial celebrations which climax with a dinner in the Guinness Storehouse on June 28. To give Ireland every chance to get their line-up right the veteran batsman is likely to pad up for the county. Although T20 was never Joyce's favourite format, he could yet embarrass his old team-mates.

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