Expectations Drive O'Brien & Ireland
It’s often said that expectations can weigh heavily on the mind but Ireland’s cricketers are no strangers to carrying such a burden, and as they begin final preparations for this month’s ICC World Twenty20, Kevin O’Brien insists that they can deliver another stirring performance on the global stage.
The all-rounder was part of the side that shocked Pakistan in 2007, an abrupt victory that initiated the vast and unfaltering cricketing blossoming, and seven years on is targeting another triumph on St. Patrick’s Day, this time against Zimbabwe in their campaign opener.
"It’s been a kind day to us in the past and I hope it’s a good omen for when we play Zimbabwe in the first match, it’s a massive game for both teams," he said.
"We have serious ambitions about going all the way in this tournament, and if we play to our ability, there’s no reason why we can’t but we have to get off the plane in Dhaka and hit the ground running."
The ICC’s decision to expand the number of teams to 16 means Ireland’s qualifying tournament victory in November no longer grants them a direct route through to a berth alongside the game’s big names.
Instead, they’ll have to negotiate an initial group stage, where they’ll meet Netherlands, United Arab Emirates and the southern African nation, with any defeat likely to prove fatal.
"It’s not ideal," O’Brien remarks. "However, if we can come through the first round, we’ll come into the tournament off the back of three competitive games which would be far more beneficial than a couple of warm-up fixtures."
Phil Simmons' side will arrive in Bangladesh on the back of an indelible limited-over series against the West Indies, during which they secured a series draw with the hosts after defeating them in the first Twenty20, but O’Brien knows success brings increased expectations.
"We take confidence from having beaten the world champions on their own patch but I suppose that puts added pressure on us to progress to the Super 10 stage in the World Twenty20," the 30-year-old, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, admitted.
"Six games of high-quality cricket in the Caribbean have been great preparation for this trip and we’re in a good place but we know all the other teams are good sides and very dangerous in the shortest-format.
"If we can be clinical with the bat and back ourselves, then we can beat anyone on our day."
They did just that in Jamaica. A six-wicket triumph in the opening fixture of the series highlighted Ireland’s strengths with the ball and in the field and with conditions in Bangladesh likely to resemble those encountered at Sabina Park, O’Brien is confident they have an added advantage.
"The bowling unit showed last month on similar pitches in the Caribbean that they can bowl sides out and restrict quality sides to low totals.
"If we're being harsh on ourselves we probably left a few results out on the pitch there, especially at Sabina Park when we couldn't chase 97 to clinch the T20 series," he added.
The slower bowlers are likely to play a key role during the tournament and having made his international bow during the 2010 edition, Somerset’s George Dockrell is hoping he can help his side replicate their exploits of bygone global tournaments.
"We'll definitely be backing ourselves to qualify for the next phase.
"We beat Zimbabwe, the last time we played, and also the UAE and Netherlands a number of times," he commented.
"The format's slightly different now, and I think it gives us a better chance, although there's a lot more expectation on our shoulders now.
"We made some really great strides in the past month and I'm really looking forward to the tournament."
Ireland conclude their groundwork this week, during a seven-day stay in Dubai, when they face Worcestershire and Hong Kong in two friendly fixtures.
Further warm-up games against Nepal and hosts Bangladesh act as a preamble to the St. Patrick’s Day (17th March) encounter with Zimbabwe in Sylhet.
© Cricket World 2014