Ireland aim to make an impact at Cricket World Cup

West Indies defeated Ireland in 2011 - they meet again on Sunday in the World Cup
West Indies defeated Ireland in 2011 - they meet again on Sunday in the World Cup

For Ireland, gone are the days of simply trying to take a scalp at major tournaments - the Blarney Army are out to establish themselves on the big stage for the long term.

World Cup wins over Pakistan in 2007 and England four years later showed the ability in Ireland’s team, with the former also helping them through to the Super Eight stage.

They missed out on the quarter-finals in 2011 but making it through Pool B is the bare minimum of their ambitions this time in Australia and New Zealand.

“I think the coach (Phil Simmons) would be disappointed if he heard me just talking about getting through the group,” veteran batsman Niall O’Brien said.

“That’s the first objective of any side and it’s not going to be easy but we know what we need to do, and the teams we need to beat.

“That’s the first hurdle and then once you get to the knock-out stages, anything can happen.

“We’ve got players who can win matches for us all through the side so we’ve got confidence that if we get to the knock-out stages, we can take it a little bit further.”

The United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe represent obvious targets for Simmons’ side, who will also hope to catch Pakistan or the West Indies on an off day. Much-fancied India and South Africa complete the group.

Ireland’s squad features six World Cup debutants - including Max Sorensen, whose late call-up in place of the injured Tim Murtagh provided evidence of their increased strength in depth.

“Max was very unlucky to get left out in the first place,” said O’Brien.

“He had a bad injury just before the tour to Australia and in fairness the young guys put their hands up, took some wickets and forced the hand of the selectors.

“It’s disappointing for us to lose Tim, he brings us experience and control with the ball and we’ll certainly miss him, but Max comes back in and he’ll feel he has a point to prove to the selectors.

“There’s competition for places throughout the team. In previous World Cups, we were probably picking from 12 really, but in this side anyone who’s left out can feel disappointed.

“Us older guys are being kept on our toes by the young kids, so that’s the way to be.”

O’Brien heads into his third 50-over World Cup with real pedigree, having scored 72 in that win over Pakistan and 63 against England in the same tournament - and, although younger brother Kevin’s astonishing 158 against England captured the headlines, top-scoring overall for Ireland in 2011 too.

“I’ve always said I find it easier to get up for the big tournaments than if it’s just the odd match here and there, so I’ll be looking forward to stamping my authority on the tournament,” he said.

“I think the last two World Cups I’ve been leading scorer for Ireland so I’ve got that to spur me on.

“There’s some good competition with our batting, the likes of Paul Stirling, (William) Porterfield, obviously Kevin who’s scoring some big runs.

“Hopefully we can all crack on and win a match or two for Ireland.”

O’Brien, who has just signed a new county contract with Leicestershire, has been playing as a specialist batsman for his country but is keen to regain wicketkeeping duties from Surrey’s Gary Wilson.

The 33-year-old said: “I still think I’m good enough to keep for the team, at the moment I haven’t got the gloves but I’ll be working hard on a daily basis to get them back.”

For the Irish, as for most of cricket’s Associate nations, the wider issue is establishing themselves among the leading nations on a regular basis - and O’Brien is aware of the need for another good World Cup showing to push their claims.

“I think we’ve played seven games since the last World Cup against full members,” he said.

“As a cricketer, we would love to play more cricket against the top sides.

“That’s how we’ll improve, in three or four games against South Africa and Australia we’ll learn a lot more than we will in 20 games against other associate teams.

“Obviously there are financial implications in trying to host these teams and get them over to Ireland, the funding is very different to the top eight or top 10 teams in the world.

“Speaking to a lot of friends and opponents, they’d love to play Ireland.

“Obviously they’re busy in their schedules but hopefully in the not-too-distant future Ireland can play a bit more white-ball cricket.

“Hopefully we can cross that bridge with some big performances in the World Cup.

“If we can do that, we’ll be in a bit stronger position in saying ‘give us some more matches’.”