And with a pull for four from a Paul Stirling half-tracker, Ireland’s courageous 2015 Cricket World Cup campaign was officially over as Pakistan ran out seven wicket winners on Sunday night at Adelaide Oval.
With the West Indies winning earlier in the day and no rain in sight, the equation for the Irish was fairly simple. We had to win to qualify for a quarter final berth against Australia on Friday. Lose and it would be curtains for us given our inferior net run rate to both Pakistan and the Windies. And as it turned out, the latter scenario was the one that became reality.
Bowling has not been our strong suit throughout the tournament, so after winning the toss, we needed to post a big total to give ourselves a chance of getting through. Sadly, Sunday’s match was the second in the week where our middle to late order batsmen failed to capitalise on a great platform created by the top order. The crumbling of wickets in the last ten overs probably left us 50 runs short of a likely target following skipper William Porterfield’s brilliant century. A true captain’s knock when it was needed the most. However, 237 would be our second lowest score for the cup and whilst competitive, it proved to be nowhere adequate enough on a batsman-friendly Adelaide Oval.
The writing was on the wall early in the Pakistan chase. We would not be witnessing another miracle victory, akin to our last match against Pakistan in Jamaica in 2007, as their openers put on a run a ball opening stand. After being the face of fun for the Blarney Army throughout the Cup, I was conscience not to be seen crying or feeling down when the cameras zoomed in as our exit became inevitable. Obviously a happy Larry would be best but you can’t just paint a permanent smile on your face. So I needed the Blarney Army to make us all laugh, like they have done across the previous matches across Australian and New Zealand. And I wasn’t disappointed. From John Mooney’s first ball of the innings where the Army donned light green headbands in support of him, right through to the lights being turned off, the Army supported our boys with their usual vigour. From singing ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and ‘Who let the Dubs out’ through to taking our ‘Shoes off for the boys in green’ we provided great entertainment for those both at the ground and those listening at home.
Win, lose or draw it was imperative to have farewell drinks at the team hotel after the match on Sunday night. There was a touch of sadness knowing that all the fun we had the previous six weeks was coming to an abrupt end with flights being scheduled for 8am the following morning. Kylie and myself have made many new friends and rekindled a number of old friendships amongst the Blarney Army, the playing group, the WAGS, the media and the Cricket Ireland management. It is a shame that we are once again 12,000 miles apart following their departures back home during the week. Characters such as Michael Keane, Jonny Heywood, Soupi Campbell, David ‘St Patrick’ O’Connor and Shay ‘Shamrock Suit’ Livingstone made the tournament so much fun for us in the outer. Hamish also had a ball as Lil Larry. It is going to be very hard to return to normal life again anytime soon. We might have to arrange a trip to Ireland around the same time as the English (May 8) or Australian (August 27) matches later in the year.
With Ireland now out, my tip to take home the World Cup is South Africa. They have, with Australia, the best bowling attack but it is their batting line-up that is their competitive advantage. The South African batsmen can be relied on performing on all types of surfaces against all types of bowling. Day in, day out. Two scores over 400 in the pool games shows that they can flay it around as good as anyone but have the class of Amla and De Villiers that the others can only dream of.
The end of a World Cup usually coincides with changes of the guard. It is sad knowing that it is unlikely we will see Ed Joyce, John Mooney or Niall O’Brien at the 2019 Cricket World Cup, even if Ireland qualify. They have been great servants of the game and I hope they get a Test match before their careers are complete. Another great servant of Irish cricket has been Phil Simmons, our coach for the past eight years. Whilst he is obviously still very much wanted in the Irish fold, I suspect the vacant coaching position with his native West Indies may lure him away from us in the not too distant future. He will be a big loss but I am certain there will be many applicants around the world wanting to put their hand up to take over his reins. After all, our future is bright with young guns such as Balbirnie, Stirling, Dockrell, Chase and Young set to carry the baton for many a year to come.
There is no doubt that this tournament has demonstrated that Ireland has the best cricket fans in the world. Everyone loves the Irish. Even the head of ICC security told me that the Army will be missed. Seems he was very impressed with how well behaved we were throughout the tournament with no crowd evictions on Sunday amongst the 10,000-strong crowd. That was a first for him across 5 Olympics and 3 Cricket World Cups. The Blarney Army have shown that we wanted to be here. We provided the tournament with colour, enthusiasm, laughter, wit and of course, plenty of song along the way. Something that may be missed in the pointier end of the tournament. And at future World Cups.
Overall, the Irish campaign with three wins, including two against Full Member nations, will be seen as our most successful World Cup ever. So it is rather embarrassing to think that it could also be our last World Cup with the ICC remaining steadfast on reducing the 2019 version to just ten teams with Ireland’s only avenue via a qualifying tournament in Bangladesh. With soccer and rugby looking to expand the number of teams in their respective quadrennial tournaments, I feel that cricket authorities are taking a myopic view when they should be looking to grow the game even further across all boundaries around the globe. We also need more Full Member nations offering to play us on a more regular basis. Nine matches in four years between World Cups is simply not good enough for developing our game.
With our “Give us a Test Match” chant reverberating across the impressive Adelaide Oval during the final overs, the last word was left by the Blarney Army, who left the cricket authorities in no doubt what our recommendation for the future of Irish cricket is. The Irish side have demonstrated in this World Cup that they would be good enough if given that chance.
Whether that dream of a Test match eventuates one day may be uncertain. But one thing is certain. Larry will be there should that day comes to fruition.
Yours in cricket and always Backing Green.