World Cup qualification failure should instigate change for Ireland
Ireland's hopes of a fourth successive Cricket World Cup came to a halt on Friday when the Afghans found just a little bit more steel, craft and nerve in a battle worthy of the millions at stake.
William Porterfield's side will look back on the tournament as one of missed opportunities that will gall them for years when they replay those moments in the dead of night, staring at the ceiling trying to sleep. Because the bottom line is three victories were allowed to slip away when qualification would have been assured with just one of them.
On-field mistakes happen when players bend and crack under enormous stress, and that happened again in Harare on Friday. Coaches and captains take a little more blame, and there is no denying that bad calls were made on selection on this trip.
Matters were undoubtedly complicated by George Dockrell's struggles with form, and Ed Joyce's with fitness, but twice Ireland went into vital games on spinners' pitches with a shortage of such bowlers.
The whole balance of the team was compromised by a now-baffling persistence with Gary Wilson, a walking wicket who scored just 59 runs off 103 balls in the six games he played. Simi Singh eventually filled in when he flew home briefly but was dropped on Wilson's return despite taking 3-15. Joyce's injury allowed the YMCA all-rounder back later and although he failed with the bat his bowling was a big plus.
Porterfield, despite an excellent tournament with the bat, showed several of his old failings as a captain. On pitches that largely favoured spin, he gave Paul Stirling - a man with 94 wickets for Ireland - just seven overs in the seven games. Stirling and Kevin O'Brien were overlooked completely against Afghanistan, despite Barry McCarthy clearly struggling.
O'Brien's failure as a death bowler against West Indies seemed to cost him his captain's trust for, although taking 1-22 off eight excellent mid-innings overs against Zimbabwe, he was given just one over in the last two games.
Cricket Ireland will feel the pain of this elimination in their coffers, missing out on an estimated €1.2m and damaging its plans for expansion. A World Cup on its doorstep would have provided myriad opportunities to grow the game here.
The organisation needs to shoulder a share of the blame too, with its long goodbye to John Bracewell ensuring that new coach Graham Ford, appointed in September, did not take the reins until January, just eight weeks before the qualifying tournament.
But in the end, the players will feel most of the pain, especially those such as Joyce, Niall O'Brien and Boyd Rankin who won't get a chance to play in another World Cup, and Tim Murtagh, who never got a chance to play in one.
Afterwards, Porterfield spoke passionately and powerfully about the iniquities of ICC and its reduced World Cup. He showed why he has been a strong leader of the side since he has been in charge after Trent Johnston stepped down on March 22, 2008.
It has been a glorious decade for the man from Killyclooney, featuring wins over West Indies, England and Bangladesh, and capped by a triple of Associates trophies in 2013.
Porterfield will also be remembered as the man who spearheaded Ireland's drive to Test cricket, and there will be no one more deserving to lead them out against Pakistan in Malahide on May 11.
But there it should end, a glorious climax to a mostly glorious decade. There will be retirements, and enforced changes of personnel, and the new era deserves a new leader to make sense of it all.
Sunday Indo Sport