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Ireland facing tough innings on and off the field of play

Depleted and deflated squad face an uphill battle on world stage, writes Gerard Siggins

AS Ireland's cricketers and administrators flew home after being washed out of the ICC World Twenty20, they knew they were heading into a new era, on and off the field. And it is an era with formidable challenges to be overcome.

The players know they will have to do without their spearhead bowler, Boyd Rankin, who wasn't himself in Colombo, physically or psychologically. Having opted to try to play Test cricket with England, Rankin knew this was his last tournament with Ireland, and the occasion proved too much. His intestines, too, failed the test, and his last action in a green shirt was dry-retching his way off the field at the R Premadasa Stadium.

It was the final bow on the world stage, too, for at least one more of the men who led Ireland into its cricketing golden age. As he sipped a Lion lager on Monday night, Trent Johnston reminisced on his time and the great moments he has been part of.

Ed Joyce, too, is unlikely to play again in a format with which he is not comfortable. His position highlights the paucity of T20 resources in Ireland. Joyce is one of two Irish county players who didn't play a single Friends Life T20 game this summer. William Porterfield, Niall O'Brien and Tim Murtagh played just three apiece.

When T20 arrived with a bang there was scepticism that it would fizzle away. But it has shown no sign of doing so and has already become the dominant format in women's cricket and is hugely popular in India, where the sport's power and money reside.

Ireland's selectors pick the best cricketers from a small pool, with little variation between T20 and four-day squads. In the future we will have to move towards a specialist short-form squad, such as other nations have done. Although Paul Stirling is a quality batsman with several four-day centuries for Ireland, his club sees it differently -- he has still to make his first-class debut for Middlesex after three years at Lord's.

There will need to be more identification of specialist T20 players, with the likes of YMCA's Reinhardt Strydom worth a second look -- and a request to get up to the fitness levels required. Perhaps, too, in time a specialist T20 captain may be appointed, especially if William Porterfield's poor run in the format continues.

That would be a hard decision to make, as evidence elsewhere shows it is hard to split the captaincy without undermining the senior man. Porterfield's two golden ducks were unfair on a hard-working batsman, but show the type of pressure a captain is under. Just minutes before he had to face Fidel Edwards, Porterfield had to look his club, province and country colleague in the eye and tell him he wasn't fit enough to make his farewell. And the shot he played against Australia would have been in his head too. And when he tried to clip Edwards away for a single he failed to get far enough forward to combat a vicious inswinging yorker.

There have been frustrating deliveries for Cricket Ireland too, with attempts to secure more fixtures against full members being met with indifference and, as Johnston thundered, cowardice.

"Why don't Bangladesh and Zimbabwe want to play us?" he asked. "I know why, because they're scared that we'll beat them and that we'll go above them in the rankings. I know that for a fact."

The frustration is deepened for Phil Simmons, who rarely gets his full squad together in the Irish summer. And now, with six months away from their counties looming, there are no fixtures on the horizon to test the new team he has to develop, first to qualify for and then to compete in the 2013 World Twenty20 and 2015 World Cup.

At ICC headquarters in Dubai, Warren Deutrom must be like one of those visitors who when you see them coming up the path you hide behind the curtains. Deutrom's doggedness has won bigger battles with ICC and the full members, but for the future of Irish cricket this is a battle he has to win.

Sunday Indo Sport