Thursday 22 March 2018

Porterfield knows Irish must adapt to rescue campaign

Skipper holds hands up after defeats as Jersey tie becomes must-win

Ireland's William Porterfield scores a run off a delivery from Hong Kong's Irfan Ahmed
Ireland's William Porterfield scores a run off a delivery from Hong Kong's Irfan Ahmed

Ger Siggins

IT wasn't supposed to be like this. Ireland's game against Jersey this morning wasn't expected to be too taxing, allowing fringe players a run to keep them in nick ahead of the climax of the World T20 Qualifiers next weekend.


But a couple of calamitous defeats means this first-ever meeting with the Channel Islanders is a must-win if Ireland are to keep alive their dream of a place in India 2016. It has been a deeply embarrassing campaign so far: losing to Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong must make Ireland's players feel just as those from Pakistan and West Indies did when they were turned over by Ireland.

And while neither PNG nor Hong Kong have previously beaten Ireland, both have made big strides in recent years. "Associate sides have got a lot closer to each other in recent years, and that gave Hong Kong the confidence that they could beat Ireland," says their Australian coach, Charlie Burke.

Both defeats were due to batting failures. While the bowlers had been carted all around Australasia during the 50-over World Cup in March, on home soil this week, they have been accurate and parsimonious.

In this 14-team tournament so far, five of the 16 most economical bowlers have been Irish, with Kevin O'Brien (4.08) and Stuart Thompson (4.56) the only players to cost less than five runs an over. Conditions have been a factor, with Group B in Scotland played on better pitches. Of the 21 batsmen who have scored 100 runs in the tournament at faster than a run a ball, only five are playing in the Ireland group. And none of them are Irish.

"The last two games with the bat have been very disappointing," admitted William Porterfield on Friday night. The Irish captain appeared stunned by the setback to Hong Kong, but was quick to admit his own role in the five-run defeat.

"I take a lot of responsibility myself. I faced quite a few balls for the runs that I got. You can find an extra six runs anywhere. We just left too much there coming down the back end and it cost us."

Porterfield had the grace, too, to be embarrassed at pointing to the home-team factors which should have been a boon, but have been anything but. "It sounds stupid to say we haven't adapted to Irish conditions, but we haven't."

While eight of the 13 players Ireland have used have been playing in England, every player is well used to batting on far worse tracks than those at Stormont and Malahide.

Porterfield himself has made big contributions in almost every game, albeit at a strike rate lower than he would like - his 40-ball 28 on Friday included 18 balls from which he didn't score. The one Irish batsman who looks in fine form is John Mooney, who has been banished to No 9 in the order this week. He has been left stranded twice when overs ran out, but in 18 balls scored 43, hitting two 6s and six 4s. "John has been batting well," said Porterfield, when pressed about the batting order, "but at that stage, we decided to go left/right (handed batsmen) because of the wind. But it's our top six who need to be getting the runs and setting it up for Mooners with a cameo - it was just too much today for him."

While the Irish fielding and bowling has retained the intensity that has made it the most feared Associate for a decade, the batting has suddenly lost its mojo. Perhaps it was in losing the calm influence of Ed Joyce, now retired from T20s; perhaps a hangover from the World Cup; perhaps an arrogance about playing sides who, up to this, had never cost them a thought.

The skipper pointed to the failure of the batsmen to apply themselves, mentally, to reach a notional target against PNG. Blame for the Hong Kong defeat lies in a mid-innings malaise after Paul Stirling hit 20 off the sixth over. The next 20 runs took a full six overs as Porterfield, Kevin O'Brien and Gary Wilson failed to hit a single boundary. Run-rate mounted and wickets were thrown away cheaply as time ran out and Ireland tumbled to defeat.

It left the skipper scrambling for positives. "We've got to get two points from Jersey," he said. "In the play-offs, we'll have an advantage over the teams who've been playing in Scotland. But only if we can adapt."

Ireland v Jersey,

Sky Sports 3, 10.00am

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