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World Twenty20: Ireland are delivering by playing it straight, says O'Brien

By Ian Callender

It's three down and three to go for Ireland in their mission to reach the World Twenty20 finals in India next year and, halfway through the group stage, it has been plain sailing so far for the No 1 seeds.

Two more wins are likely to be enough for Ireland to win Group A, book their place in the second semi-final on Saturday week and confirm their place in the first stage of the finals.

It was no more than expected because, in truth, Ireland's professional set-up is so superior to the other six teams in their group that it would be little short of a catastrophe if they were not to make it six wins out of six.

Nepal were seeded second in the group and Monday's win in a match which lasted less than 23 overs underlined the gulf in class, the Nepalese, who played at the last World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, bowled out for 53, the second lowest total in a T20 international.

After a rest day, the Group A action resumes at Stormont this morning (10am) with Ireland facing Papua New Guinea, a team now in the High Performance programme, who Ireland will meet in the Intercontinental Cup early next year and who defeated the Irish in a warm-up match ahead of the last World Twenty20 qualifiers in Dubai.

So Ireland will be taking nothing for granted but, in home conditions, a fourth successive win before the tournament moves to Dublin should be little short of a formality.

The most encouraging aspect of the Irish displays so far has, undoubtedly, been the bowling.

Kevin O'Brien, who has tournament figures of four for 10 from five overs to date and captained the team against Scotland last month, has described those defeats at Bready as a "wake-up call" and highlighted the difference this week.

"It's important that you bowl straight. We have bowled a lot straighter in these three games than at Bready and a little bit fuller. If you are not going to hit the stumps you are not going to get wickets," was his reasoning and he is backed up by the statistics.

Against Scotland, of the eight wickets they took, only one was bowled or leg before while in the four games at Stormont, including the warm-up against Oman, Ireland bowlers have hit the stumps six times and the pads on a further four occasions in 34 dismissals.

The batting has been workmanlike rather than spectacular, but O'Brien is quick to refute any thoughts that Afghanistan, seeded to meet Ireland in the final on Sunday week, were in better form, having also won their three games, against a higher standard of opposition.

"They are getting higher totals than us, but The Grange is always a good wicket to bat on, and if and when we meet Afghanistan we know their strengths and weaknesses," said O'Brien, Ireland's most capped player.

And while Ireland's big-hitting opening batsman Paul Stirling has yet to fire - although his 29 off 21 balls on Monday with four fours and a six was a promising sign - Muhammad Shahzad is, in O'Brien's words, "back to his flamboyant best at the top of the order".

He has already scored 151 runs in the tournament to date.

But it is all about peaking at the right time and Ireland, after losing their first match in the last Qualifiers, went on an eight-game winning run and turned on the style in the final by piling up 225 for five, against Afghanistan in a memorable climax. The sleeping giant is still snoozing.

Today's fixtures: Stormont: IRELAND v PNG (10am); Nepal v Hong Kong (2.15pm). Bready: USA v Jersey (10am).

Belfast Telegraph


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