Ireland out to stake an early claim in battle for Test status
Published 19/02/2014 | 01:30
IRELAND return to Sabina Park tonight, the venue where the team announced their arrival on the world stage with their World Cup victory over Pakistan.
Seven years on, they have much more to prove as the Twenty20 international against West Indies in Jamaica is Ireland's first game against a Full Member since the ICC confirmed their pathway to Test status.
A T20 game is as far removed from a Test match as it is possible to be in cricket, but for the next three years the eyes of the world will be keeping a close watch on Ireland's performances in every format, as the leading Associate nation must show on the pitch their credibility to move up to the next level.
The squad have been in the Caribbean for the last three weeks but have lost more matches than they have won, culminating last Friday in a seven wickets defeat by the Trinidad and Tobago B side in a Twenty20 game.
The middle order batting, in particular, have struggled for runs and the bowlers have failed to find a consistent length but it is a case of a change of scenery and a significant increase in the standard of opposition which will hopefully inspire Ireland.
The famous venue should also motivate the players, especially captain William Porterfield and the O'Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, the survivors from the St Patrick's Day success in 2007.
It will also be a return visit for Paul Stirling, Alex Cusack, Gary Wilson and George Dockrell, who played in Ireland's last ODI in the West Indies four years ago although, like the two T20 games which followed, that ended in defeat.
Ireland have six players 24 years or younger, although they are boosted by the arrival of Ed Joyce, who sat out the Trinidad leg of the tour. Ireland's player of the year in 2013 makes his 99th appearance, while Alex Cusack becomes the eighth man to play 150 games
Whatever the results, the next two games are sure to be vital preparation for Ireland before they head to Bangladesh next month for the World Twenty20.
As Kevin O'Brien put it: "We may be up against world stars in the modern game but it is no reason to be fearful or overwhelmed. We have to believe in our abilities and play to our strengths."