Paul Stirling will be key to Ireland’s chances
Five long years Ireland have had to wait to appear on cricket’s biggest stage and star batter Paul Stirling is desperate to make up for lost time.
A combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and the reduction of teams in the 50-over World Cup, means that Ireland’s participation in the ICC Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup is their first since 2016.
Ireland failed to win a match in that tournament, beaten by Oman and the Netherlands while their clash with Bangladesh was washed out – meaning elimination after the first round.
It is a fate they are hoping to avoid this time around, with familiar foes the Netherlands first up on 18 October, followed by Sri Lanka and Namibia in the tournament being played in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
Stirling said: “It’s always nice to be back at world tournaments. It feels like a long time since the last one, maybe five years for us so we’re excited to be back on the world stage, playing against hopefully the best teams in the world.
“It’s massive for us. It’s something we always grew up, knowing that World Cups were the pinnacle of what we were going to try to achieve in our sport. Growing up, watching 2007, it’s brought up when we did well. Certainly that was the inspiration for myself and the people around my age to try to improve on that and continue Irish cricket playing in main events. So we’re delighted to be back, it’s been a tough couple of years with the pandemic.”
The 2007 tournament to which Stirling refers is of course the 50-over tournament when Ireland knocked out Pakistan in the group stage in one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history, before going on to add a success against Bangladesh to their collection.
Irish cricket has certainly moved on since then, with Kevin O’Brien’s heroics at the 2011 World Cup in victory over England.
O’Brien is the only remaining player from 2007 in the current squad, which Stirling admits is still finding its feet on the international stage.
He added: “I think before the pandemic started, we were improving pretty well. I think it came at a bad time for us because we started seeing results go on the increase. We beat the West Indies in Grenada and I think we beat Afghanistan in a tied game in a Super Over just before, it felt like they were turning points for us.
“There was a bit of a gap there, so it feels like an opportunity to improve and show what depth we have in the rest of the squad. We’re hoping to build on that, even though it was such a long time ago. We feel like we always are improving, but with what is a pretty young side at the moment, you’ll always find mistakes, so we hope to mitigate those mistakes and put in a good show.”
While it is a young squad that is currently finishing off quarantine in Dubai, that does not mean there is a lack of ambition.
Explaining the importance of a good result, Stirling added: “It’s big, more so for inspiration for young kids back home to try to take up cricket and play it because it’s a minority sport.
“We want as many people as we possibly can, so we want to not just get into the next phase but compete strongly and maybe even get a couple of wins. It’s so important and raises the profile so much. That’s got to be our aim but we can’t look too far ahead, we’ve got three huge games on this side of the draw.”
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