The practice ground at the HPCA stadium, half-indoor, half outdoor, adjacent to the main entrance, is so tiny and enclosed that an entire squad of Ireland players and their retinue of support staff could give it a Sunday bazaar-like feel. Congested and claustrophobic, a mess of cricket kits splayed all over, water bottles lying asunder, instructions lost in the cacophonous bass of the leather balls being bludgeoned. Yelps of “watch your head” or “watch on mate,” seemed to echo back from the mountains, their mighty gaze obscured from the players by the massive concrete structure. Instead, there was a black blanket of tent cloth covering the enclosure, and the curious stare of the odd policeman passing by,
The only time the players collectively gasped—and when they all froze in the posture for a micro-second and then rushed to the spot — was when Andre Poynter’s airborne straight drive struck flush on net bowler Mahesh Thakur’s temple, and the latter collapsed onto the ground. Poynter stood beside him chewing his nails, shaking his head eyes flickering in anxiety, and perhaps ruing the shot, as the Irish team doctor gave him the first aid. The moment Mahesh regained his consciousness, which was a good two minutes after the incident, there was a collective sigh of relief and “brave bloke” whispers all around, as Mahesh, his temple bandaged was clutched off. Then the bazaar-like feel was then recreated. Poynter went full pelt and drilled another of those drives over one of his own teammates.
Since the Phillip Hughes fatality, there is concerted fear whenever a player is struck on his head, or even chest. Ireland coach John Bracewell was thankful that it wasn’t one of his frontline bowlers, and jested it was time face guards sneaked into their gears. “But what do you do? You have to go back and get those powerful shots going. In T20, you know power is the main thing,” he asserts.
Whether power is an over-stated virtue in cricket’s shortest form is arguable, but Bracewell certainly feels that power is the way forward for his side, who haven’t demonstrated their giant-hunting habit in T20s. And since taking over reins last year, he has frantically ensured that his players don’t bunk the gym sessions.
Consequently, he feels his bunch of players are more powerful than when had taken over. “We changed our physical programme a little bit more targeting on power hitting and making sure guys are in the right position. So we are physically more mature They get confidence to strike the ball more harder. Porterfield is hitting the ball cleaner. Gary Wilson is also hitting big and other guys are also getting the confidence to do that and believe now. The physical confidence they have is remarkable,” he explained, even as the portly William Potterfield pottered around in the background. Maybe, he has earned the right to be on the flabbier side.
But overall you find sturdier blokes all over, especially the younger group with chiselled physiques, a cut-off from the usual associate nations stereotype of out-of-shape amateurs here to make the numbers. Like the clowns in circus, occasionally delivering a memorable cameo, a non-regular, feel-good story, which fades as fast as its novelty. But Ireland would’nt just be content basking in the one-off upset over a big gun—an emotion their fellow associates too would approve of.
Ireland are seeking a foothold in the world of cricketing giants—it wasn’t careless bragging when the coach said they were fancying to not only enhance their ODI profile but also acquire Test status.
Those dreams seem quite distant at the moment, but here is one—and the perhaps lone—tournament wherein they can tangibly illustrate the world how well they have caught up with at least the bottom-rung Test teams. So Ireland would gauge their improvement based on their performance against Bangladesh, who seemed to have got a measure of the shortest format.
“Obviously, Bangladesh is a big big game for all teams in our group. They’re probably the world’s most emerging team. They’re accelerating fast on the learning curve. They’re accelerating at the same rate and following the same evolutionary process as Sri Lanka did sometime back. They’re going to be tough, but it’s a T20 game. If you take your chances, you have a chance. If you look at it from the dim side, you got no chance. We’ll give it our best shot and if we get through, our main aim will be to upset someone else,” said Bracewell.
Fellow associates in the group—the Netherlands and Oman—would readily corroborate with Bracewell’s views. Not that there is no simmering rivalry within the associate fold, but the prized catch is Bangladesh, for two obvious reason—first whichever team beats Bangladesh, will brighten their prospects of making the main round. Then it will soothe their egos that they have upended a Test-playing side. The rest of the script is about to out-do even-skilled teams, a more familiar chore, and Bracewell feels the gap between the associate teams has narrowed like never before.
A case in point is Oman, who became the lowest ranked associate team (ranked 29 then) to qualify for the World Cup qualifiers last year, capping a golden 2015 in which their notable scalps included Canada, the Netherland and Afghanistan. And as Nepal showed last year, debutants can’t be written off snappishly.
Part of the reason the teams don’t fear Bangladesh is the latter’s own undoing. Unlike the 50-over version, wherein they have consistently punched above their weight, they have perennially imploded in the shortest form and at the biggest stage.
A specific number convinces this patchy streak—just three wins across all editions of the T20 World Cup. But their recent revival, peaked when they reached the Asia Cup final, they’d hope won’t be a false dawn, though their most remarkable win in the tournament had come against perhaps the poorest Pakistani batting line-up in a decade.
In the Group B qualifiers, just swap Zimbabwe (the other Test-playing nation in the qualifiers) with Bangladesh, Scotland with the Netherlands (they shared the ICC World Cup qualifying tournament), Hong Kong with Oman and Afghanistan with Ireland. Zimbabwe, whose last win over a Test nation came as far back as 2007 and who recently lost a series to Afghanistan, perhaps is more fragile than Bangladesh, and unless they make a few upgrades, they could crash out as early as the qualifiers.
Overall, it’s an eclectic bunch–you have the experience of Zimbabwe,the resurgence of Bangladesh, the effervescence of Ireland and Scotland, the raw romance of Afghanistan, the novelty quotient of Oman and Hong Kong and the derring-do of the Netherlands, who have habitually foiled the dreams of biggies.
Of those, only two teams, one team from each group, will qualify for the main round, their “big prize”, according to Bracewell. He wasn’t being sarcastic, but just plain-speaking on the realistic, and collective, aspiration of the associates clique.
But still, they won’t limit their dreams to just qualify.
Pak delegation visits HPCA stadium
Dharamsala: In the run-up to the India-Pakistan World T20 match scheduled to be played in Dharamshala on March 19, a two-member high level Pakistan team on Monday and the inspected heavily guarded cricket stadium, and held a meeting with BCCI, HPCA and state government officials. The team’s arrivals was delayed for more than three hours ,apparently due to certain security and visa related issues at Wagah border. The team, included the director of the Lahore-based Federal Investigation Agency, Dr Usman Anwar and Pakistan Cricket Board Chief Security Officer Col (Rtd) Azam Khan. (ENS)