An eight wicket victory with 13 overs to spare may have seemed that it was a walk in the park by the Indians in their latest World Cup match in Hamilton but it was anything but that for the reigning world champions on Tuesday. Ireland’s 259 was the highest total posted against the undefeated Indians across their five Pool B matches. We scored more (89 without loss) than any other country against them in the first fifteen overs. Better than Pakistan, West Indies and the South Africans. Not bad. Their run chase could have been so much different if centurymaker Shikhar Dhawan wasn’t dropped twice early in his innings. Catches win matches and we will need to take these chances in our next game.
Whilst we may not quite match it with the very best just yet, there is no doubt that we are improving on previous campaigns. We have passed 250 on four occasions in this cup to date, including twice over 300. We really should have made it three 300 plus scores on Tuesday, given the great platform that was created by our openers and Niall O’Brien, but a middle order collapse in the batting powerplay stopped any hope of that. Spinners from all countries have copped a hammering so far in the tournament but George Dockerell, Andy McBrine and Paul Stirling have been as good as any. We are probably two world-class bowlers short of a side that could take home the cup. Don’t believe me? Put the names Starc, Johnson, Steyn or Boult into our line-up and see what a different team it looks like then. Definitely a semi-final side. Wish Boyd Rankin was playing with us rather than the England A team in South Africa. He would have made a difference.
Tuesday was also the day that the Blarney Army met the infamous Swamy Army. Seddon Park was the only time this tournament that we were well and truly outnumbered but we held our own. Wasn’t it great to see the ground full of the tri-colour. I understand that India elected to go with the green, white and orange of the Republic of Ireland when they went independent in 1947. Whilst the Swamy Army are passionate supporters, their songs are repetitive (akin to the Barmy Army) and lack the wit and creativity of the Blarney Army. They also rely on drums and whistles to make their noise. They also go silent very quickly when things don’t go right with them. In fact when we had amassed 206 in the 38th over you could hear a pin drop amongst the Indian crowd who were stunned with how competitive the Irish are. The Blarney Army could not help ourselves and started a ‘Do you want us to sing a song for you?’ chant.
We knew that we would ultimately get it back in bucketloads when the Indians would take the game over but clearly scored the early points. By the end of the day they knew they played a game. I think we may have won a vote (or do they have several votes?) from the BCCI following our overall display. I hope to go to Eden Gardens one day to watch Ireland play India in a Test match. No doubt it would be hot in Larry’s outfit but it would be a joy to be a part of a 100,000 crowd who go bananas.
These Indian fans are something else. I have seen Sudhir Kumar Chaundary grace our TV screens over the past decade but never met him. Sudhir who you ask? He is the face of Indian cricket fans. He is also Sachin Tendulkar’s biggest fan and attends all of India’s home matches covered in tri-colour paint with number 10 on his chest and a World Cup replica trophy on his head. He applies the paint the night before every match and doesn’t sleep. During the match he waves his flag for every Indian run (not just boundaries) and every wicket taken. No wonder he looked wrecked by the end of the day. He had to rely on a letter from Sachin Tendulkar to get him past New Zealand custom officials who questioned why he was carrying so much orange, white and green paint into the country! A local Indian radio station has funded his trip – airfares, tickets, accommodation and a daily allowance. I don’t ask for anything but it would be nice to get a retweet from the ICC occasionally.
Sudhir’s partner in crime is actually Pakistan’s ‘super-fan’ Mohammad Basheer Bozai. Mohammad is a funny man who loves cricket. He is referred to as Pakistan’s Chacha which is Urdu for uncle. He lives in Chicago and survived three heart attacks in his 63 years. Although his wife is Indian, he has been a fan of Indian cricket since MS Dhoni organised a ticket for him for last year’s T20 Final. We had great banter on Tuesday, including any impromptu match of ‘air-cricket’ and look forward to our next ‘clash’ on Sunday when we face a virtual elimination match against the Pakistanis.
A funny fact about the Swamy Army is that they started during a Test series in Australia in 2003/04 – Steve Waugh’s farewell series – by two Indian ex-pats who live in Australia, Gurnam and Manu Singh. They also run Spartan Sports and one of their board members is none other than former Australian batsman Dean Jones. Dean was in Hamilton to commentate on the match and it was great listening to him imparting some of his knowledge to the Irish players, particularly Gary Wilson, Niall O’Brien and William Porterfield.
The Irish and Indian teams shared the same hotel in Hamilton and you wouldn’t find two more contrasting teams. The Irish side are clearly close and have a great bond with the Blarney Army. But the Indian side by comparison appear quite disjointed, on edge and totally ignored their own fans, sadly treating them like third rate citizens. It almost seemed that it was below them to look at their supporters in the eye, let alone give them a smile, a selfie, a hello or a hug. Hell would freeze over rather than socialize with a drink or two with them. To the naked eye, you can see that the Irish team are the ones who are loving cricket and embracing this tournament. Perhaps a reason to not request Test match status if this is the by product. Although I can’t think of any other reasons.
Our captain Will Porterfield is a tremendous leader but an even greater man. As someone once said ‘He is some man for one man’. His favourite bat was broken on Tuesday after it was hit by a wayward return throw from Virat Kohli. Beyond repair, he gave it to me to give to Lil Larry. There was one happy little leprechaun when I gave him the big surprise when I arrived back home. I wasn’t going to the match originally because I couldn’t get a return flight in time for an International Conference that I was presenting at on Wednesday. But Kylie was able to find an early flight out of Auckland – and a midnight flight to there on Monday night – so I just arrived in time to present although somewhat tired following a lack of sleep the previous two days. Work hard. Play hard. That’s my motto for this World Cup. Plenty of time for sleep next month when it is all over!
The sign of the day had to go to Blarney Army member Andy McGirl from Dublin whose sign ‘The best team in Europe’ was well received following England’s demise the previous night against the Bangladeshis. By the way, what is the difference between the English cricket team and a tea bag? The tea bag is still in the Cup. An oldie but a goodie!
The Blarney Army created a new record on Tuesday with a 982m conga which surpassed the one we did on St Patricks Day in 2007 during the famous win against Pakistan. I also set a new PB for the most selfies taken in a day with 5,231 exuberant Indian fans. By the end of the day they were chanting ‘Larry! Larry! Larry!’ and myself and Shay ‘Shamrock suit’ Livingstone did about 19 TV interviews with the Indian media post-match. We may have lost the match on Tuesday but definitely gained their respect.
It is hard to know which Pakistan side will show up at Adelaide Oval – the one that belts South Africa or the one that turns over against the West Indies – but regardless of who it is, I believe we can beat them. The players feel the same way and you just can’t beat confidence. A win will give us third place in Pool B and a quarter-final berth the following Friday against the Australians in Adelaide. A loss would mean prayers for rain in Napier washing out the UAE v Windies clash and mean a nightmare trip to Wellington next weekend against the New Zealand Black Caps. The match will be close and former Irish great Kyle McCallan has suggested that our matches should come with a general health warning. Whatever the result, it will be a heartstopper but I hope my mate Mohammad doesn’t get another attack.
Not that we needed any extra motivation but the malicious article on John Mooney by the Zimbabwean ‘journalist’ Robson Sharuko. It was totally uncalled for, particularly for someone with such a colourful past himself. I hope the ICC and Zimbabwean Cricket make the appropriate decision of removing his accreditation immediately. John’s response on Facebook was class.
This week we are not only #BackingGreen but we are specifically #BackingJohn. Go get them John Boy!
See you on Sunday.