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Youth has made Ireland a stronger force ahead of T20 World Cup: Andrew Balbirnie

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Thin line: Andrew Balbirnie says Ireland’s group is too close to call. Credit: Mike Hewitt

Thin line: Andrew Balbirnie says Ireland’s group is too close to call. Credit: Mike Hewitt

Paul Stirling. Credit: INPHO/James Crombie

Paul Stirling. Credit: INPHO/James Crombie

©INPHO/James Crombie

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Thin line: Andrew Balbirnie says Ireland’s group is too close to call. Credit: Mike Hewitt

Just two days after the Indian Premier League finished in Dubai, the T20 World Cup gets under way in neighbouring Oman tomorrow with the first of 42 games in 23 days which will bring the 16 teams down to a final four. The final is in Dubai on Sunday, November 14.

Ireland are competing in their sixth successive T20 finals but after winning their first game against Bangladesh in 2009, they have won only two of their next 14 matches, which includes three no results, and have never got out of their group.

The closest they came was in 2014 when they won their first two games against Zimbabwe and UAE and only had to prevent Netherlands scoring 190 in 14.2 overs to go through to the next stage. Only!

Infamously, the Dutch got there with three balls to spare and, as fate would have it, it is Netherlands who are Ireland’s first opponents this time.

There will be a maximum of only three survivors from that Ireland side for the rematch in Abu Dhabi on Monday but although there will still be at least six of the team which lost to the Dutch in the semi-final of the qualifying tournament back in November 2019, skipper Andrew Balbirnie feels the new faces have made Ireland a stronger proposition.

“Yes, we have had a poor record at the T20 World Cup, the last couple particularly disappointing in Dharmshala and Bangladesh, but what we’ve got now is a crop of young, hungry cricketers who are inspired by the generation who did so well (in the 50-over competition) and they want to go out and express themselves on the world stage,” he said.

Gone from the 2019 side are Gary Wilson, who captained the team to the finals, Boyd Rankin and Stuart Thompson and in have come 22-year-old Curtis Campher, Ben White (23) and Josh Little, soon to turn 22.

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All three have made an instant impression and along with Neil Rock (21) and Gareth Delany (24), mixed with the vast experience of Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien, who have played in all five of Ireland’s previous T20 World Cup campaigns, Balbirnie believes they have got the perfect blend.

“This is the first big ICC event for a lot of our guys but the two main guys at the top of the order can hand down that knowledge to the younger generation. We’ve had a good build-up, some ups and downs, but we are slowly getting there to where we want to be in the first game,” he said.

After their opener against Netherlands, who have won seven of the last nine T20 games between the teams, Ireland play Sri Lanka, who have won more T20 World Cup games than anyone, on Wednesday, still in Abu Dhabi, and finish with Namibia in Sharjah on Friday.

Only the top two after this week’s round-robin will go through to the Super 12s and it is the same in Group B which starts the tournament tomorrow with Oman facing Papua New Guinea and Scotland, who have won every warm-up match, facing group favourites Bangladesh.

The four qualifiers on Friday night then join the world’s top eight teams, including holders West Indies, England and India, in the Super 12s, which begin next Saturday with a game between Australia and South Africa.

If Ireland go through with Sri Lanka they will play Bangladesh — assuming they finish in the top two in their group — in their first Super 12 game on Wednesday, October 27 with games to follow against Afghanistan, Pakistan, New Zealand and, in the final game of the Super 12s, India.

However, if Ireland win their group and Sri Lanka are knocked out they will have a completely different fixture list against the other top eight sides and the runners-up in Bangladesh’s group.

And at the captains’ pre-tournament press conference, Balbirnie, Peter Seelaar of Netherlands and Gerhard Erasmus from Namibia all agreed their group was too close to call.

“Sri Lanka will have a hard time beating all three of us,” claimed Seelaar. “I think all four sides have an equal chance.

“Namibia have put forward a brand of cricket they want to play and stuck with it, Ireland have moved in a different direction since the last World Cup (in 2016) and we have a strong side so there is no clear favourite, actually there’s no weak side in the tournament. It will be tough to go through with three wins.”

Balbirnie added: “It’s going to be an exciting group for the neutral but hopefully it’s a week for us to put in three really good performances and peak at the right time. If we do that we will be successful.”


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