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Ireland seek redemption against powerful Windies

 

Net gain: James McCollum is set for a recall to the Ireland team today
Net gain: James McCollum is set for a recall to the Ireland team today

By Ian Callender

On this day last year, Ireland were preparing to host their first day of Test match cricket, only for rain to delay the historic occasion by 24 hours.

The rain arrived two days earlier this year so it should be all systems go at Malahide today (10.45am) with Ireland facing the West Indies in the fourth match of the Tri-Series, also involving Bangladesh.

It is an immediate chance, not for a revenge win for the 12th ranked ODI side over the seventh best team, but for a much improved performance, demanded by coach and players, following the 196 runs hammering in the first game of the series last Sunday.

The selectors, as expected, have given a vote of confidence to the squad on duty for the first two games of the series following the abandonment of Thursday's game against Bangladesh, with chairman Andrew White saying: "While there were a number of good performances during the Wolves game against Bangladesh last weekend, the selectors want to give this current 14-man squad the chance to play itself back into the series and make a bid for the final on Friday."

Realistically they had little alternative with only the games against England and the West Indies to judge their original selection on, and the only two players who failed to live up to expectations were William Porterfield and Lorcan Tucker.

One is the captain with 290 Ireland games under his belt and the other is a 22-year-old with 281 caps less, but if Ireland are serious about introducing new blood and, indeed, giving them a chance in what is undoubtedly a transition period for Irish cricket - they have won only six of their 25 games in the last year - then Tucker could not be dropped from the squad after facing just nine balls in two games.

He will probably be dropped from the team today, with James McCollum the obvious replacement at No.4 having scored 102 for the Wolves against Bangladesh last Sunday, and the Waringstown batsman is overdue his second one-day international after being summarily dropped after his first-ball duck in India in February, only because Ireland needed three specialist spinners.

How long, though, is the captain's position in the team safe and, indeed, should it be? Porterfield's scores of 17 and 12 in the first two games of the summer took his tally to 80 runs in eight Ireland innings in 2019 and, although the 34-year-old insists he is "feeling good" and is only one innings away from a big score, if he doesn't perform today or on Wednesday against Bangladesh, the selectors will have a major decision to make when picking the squad for the two ODIs against Afghanistan at Stormont next Sunday and Tuesday week.

At the end of the tour against the Afghans in March, Porterfield acknowledged he has to score runs to maintain his place in the team, but his run of 21 innings - across all three formats - without a half-century is his longest since 2014/15 when he went 25 without reaching 50.

Porterfield's opening partner Paul Stirling will not only be keen to bounce back from his golden duck against the Windies at Clontarf but also get to that elusive half-century which he has failed to do for either Middlesex or Ireland this season despite promising starts.

Andrew Balbirnie has scored an unbeaten century and two half-centuries in his last six matches, and it was great to see Ireland's most capped player Kevin O'Brien back among the runs last Sunday. He will know, though, it is five years since he has hit back-to-back one-day 50s.

After the experience of conceding a world record opening stand of 365 on Sunday, the Ireland bowlers have plenty to prove. Boyd Rankin, who sat out that game, will expect a recall, although here too Ireland must persevere with Josh Little and Mark Adair, the young talent coming through, as they look for long-term results, possibly from short-term pain.

Afghanistan were two runs ahead of Scotland when rain ended their one-day international in Edinburgh yesterday 31 balls early. It was Afghanistan's last game before they fly to Ireland next week.

Scores: Scotland 325-6 (C MacLeod 100, K Coetzer 79, R Berrington 33, M Cross 32; Gulbadin Naib 3-72) Afghanistan 269-3 (44.5 overs, Rahmat Shah 113, Hashmatullah Shahidi 59 not out, Mohammad Shazad 55). Afghanistan won by 2 runs (DLS).

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