A strong Ireland side will take on Australia, writes Ger SigginsNEXT Saturday, for the fourth time in nine days, an Ireland team will take on the world's No 1 in its sport. The soccer and rugby sides have been brave, battered and bruised, but the cricketers are typically optimistic that they can slay their giant.
"Since the fixtures came out that's the one we've all been looking forward to," says Paul Stirling of the clash with Australia next weekend. "We don't get many chances to play these sorts of games so it's a big focus."
The Middlesex batsman gave Irish fans hope two years ago when, after restricting Australia to 231, he took apart their opening bowlers. In the 11th over of the second innings, Ireland were 80-0 and set for an historic win.
"Everyone agrees that was an opportunity missed," says Stirling. "We put ourselves into a winning position and were very disappointed not to hammer that home. But we learned from that and it's great to have the opportunity to put it right."
With only Boyd Rankin out though injury, Ireland has selected its strongest squad for the RSA Challenge, giving Tim Murtagh a first cap and recalling Niall O'Brien after suspension.
"I'm really excited about it," O'Brien said yesterday. "We have a real chance. It's essentially their first game on the tour, and on our patch we could beat them."
O'Brien won't be keeping wicket, however, as Phil Simmons has opted to leave that job with Gary Wilson, despite saying Wilson is "10 times the outfielder that O'Brien is".
But the Northants man is keen to salve the troubled waters and has sent Simmons a text saying he's looking forward to working together again.
"I just want to score runs and make sure I'm focused on getting back in the Twenty20 again," he told the Sunday Independent.
The visitors are not as dominant as they have been. They had a lacklustre World Cup, going out in the quarter-finals, and won just over half of their ODIs since. Their latest series, in the West Indies in March, ended 2-2.
"We've been the No 1 one-day team in the world for a while now," captain Michael Clarke said last week. "But we need to continue to raise the bar. It's probably the start of a two-year journey for Australia, whether it's the one-day team, Test team or T20 team, to get back to being the No 1 in all three forms of the game."
The visitors are missing Michael Hussey, and the likes of George Bailey, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Matthew Wade and Peter Forrest are on a first tour to England.
They arrive in the middle of a power and money struggle with their governing body. The players believe a new definition of revenue will leave them worse off, but the ACB insists they will be Aus$80m (€63m) better off over five years. The row has gone on for weeks and shows no sign of a solution before the existing deal elapses at the end of the month -- in the middle of the five-match ODI series with England.
The Ashes comes around again next year, but this tour smacks of an accountant-organised non-event. The ancient rivals are a huge draw, with no fewer than 32 ODIs and 15 Tests between 2011 and 2015. God knows how many T20s they'll have to play.
However, that's a dream scenario for Ireland, who are still forced to scrape the odd once-off ODI with the big boys.
Ireland v Australia
Stormont, June 23, 10.45am
Sky Sports 2
Sunday Indo Sport