Ireland Intent On Making Mark In Caribbean
After the ICC’s 'Position Paper' was leaked over 10 days ago, the issue of structural reform has all but superceded what’s happened on the pitch. An exhaustive discourse has since developed as all and sundry deliver their standpoint, with the majority opposing the speculative proposals.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) are among the governing bodies yet to officially respond but they’re no strangers to change. The Caribbean’s domestic one-day competition has undergone more structural modifications and name variations in the past decade than is sustainably healthy.
The tournament’s volatile nature has seen various foreign sides drafted in, with little success, to boost numbers while varying formats have been attempted on a yearly basis to augment interest.
This year, however, the WICB hope to strike the right formula for a tournament with a rich history but slumping repute. The addition of Ireland as an overseas participant has been generally well received and is expected to give the two-week tournament an added dimension and much-needed propulsion.
Furthermore, the commitment of Nagico - a Caribbean insurance company - for the next three years as the tournament sponsor has seen the event rebranded as the Nagico Super50, adding a new-fangled look and feel for 2014.
However, for all the fanfare generated by the WICB in the lead-up to Thursday’s opening match, doubts remain whether a simple name change and the addition of the leading Associate nation will drum up interest.
The absence of West Indies captain Darren Sammy and the enigmatic Chris Gayle - both through injury - won’t help the organisers arrest the problem of perennial apathy.
The cynics will claim the invitation to Ireland is participate is nothing more than the WICB taking advantage of Ireland’s desperation for games against quality opposition and in the process, boosting international interest.
However, their role as the overseas guest benefits Phil Simmons’ side just as much as the host association. Ireland have made it clear they’re in it to win it and although that’s easier said than done, they’ll do much more than make up the numbers.
A cursory glance at the scorecards from previous years reveals why the powers are delighted to welcome a competitive eighth team. You would be forgiven for thinking that the four previous guests were part of a series of stopovers on a North Atlantic cruise rather than cricketing nations capable of contending with some of the game’s foremost names.
Indeed, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, USA and Canada added little to the competition during their brief involvement.
Ireland have been placed in Zone A alongside defending champions Windward Islands, Guyana and Jamaica and start their campaign on Friday against Guyana at the Queen’s Park Oval, which is one of two venues to be used.
With success comes confidence and confidence breeds success. Either way, Ireland are certainly not short of it heading to the Caribbean, just six weeks after completing an unprecedented Associate treble in Abu Dhabi. Ireland have truly outgrown their second-tier status and the groundwork for next year’s World Cup will begin over the next few weeks.
One area which they’ll be looking to address promptly is the make-up of their bowling attack now that Trent Johnston has hung up his boots.
Over the past 12 months, the selectors have nurtured three young fast bowlers, with a view to one or all of them being on the plane to Australia/New Zealand. However, it remains to be seen if they possess the attributes and quality to cut it on the international stage.
Craig Young, who has been on Sussex’s books for a couple of years, has been given the first opportunity to impress and stake his claim to fill the void left by Johnston’s retirement after being included in the 14-man Caribbean squad.
21-year-old Graeme McCarter will feel hard done by after he made seven appearances for Gloucestershire - including six in the County Championship - during the 2013 season while Durham academy bowler Peter Chase must wait in the wings for his full debut.
"It’s the start of a busy period for us but I know what the players would prefer to do. Either we go and play in this tournament or sit here [Dublin] and hit balls all day indoors," all-rounder Kevin O’Brien explained.
"We’ve had six or seven weeks away from cricket, so all the guys are refreshed and re-energised and looking forward to a heavy three months."
We all know what’s coming up in March. We’re looking to go over and try to win it. It’s going to be great preparation as it will give us three or four weeks of solid cricket. Hopefully it will get the guys in good form."
Ireland have avoided nine-time winners and tournament favourites Trinidad and Tobago as well as Barbados in the group stages and will be confident they can progress to the semi-finals.
The Windward Islands caused a stir twelve months ago but are without Sammy this time around. However, Andre Fletcher and Devon Smith - who topped the run scoring charts in 2013 - are equally destructive operators in home conditions.
Jamaica have been hit by the news that their captain and lynchpin, Gayle, will sit out the tournament with a hamstring complaint. David Bernard Jnr takes over the reigns and will be hoping his senior players can minimize the absence of the left-hander by making significant contributions.
All-rounder Andre Russell will be determined to impress ahead of the limited-overs series against Ireland and England which follow the regional Super50.
Guyana haven’t won the competition since 2006 and will be intent on re-establishing the dominance they previously enjoyed. Shiv Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan will be fundamental to their hopes of progressing in an otherwise unversed batting order.
The Queen’s Park Oval and Shaw Park in Trinidad will assist spinners as well as providing movement for the seamers.
In Devendra Bishoo and Narsingh Deonarine, Guyana have two international quality slow-bowlers in their ranks and games could hinge on how the opposition approach the middle-overs.
In Zone B, the Bravo brothers are part of a star-studded Trinidad outfit while Barbados could be the dark horses, with raw pace and bounce in their ranks in the form of Tino Best, Fidel Edwards and Jason Holder. Combined Campuses and Colleges and the Leeward Islands complete the line-up.
Each team play each other once in a round-robin group stage before the top two advance to the knockout round. The semi-finals take place on 12th and 13th February before the final is staged at the Port of Spain venue two days later.
It will be a clear measure of Ireland’s progression. While a successful campaign would be a further sign of their credentials, a chastening couple of weeks would render their participation counterproductive.
It’s a fine line but it’s imperative Ireland come away from the tournament with some constructive positives to build on for the one-day series against West Indies and March’s World Twenty20.
© Cricket World 2014