Ireland 2019 Season Review:
Tests: P 2 W 0 L 2 D 0
ODIs: P 13 W 6 L 7 T 0 N/R 2
T20Is: P 25 W 13 L 10 T 0 N/R 2
Ireland’s 2019 is a tale of reasonable results, mixed fortunes and some serious woes. Despite pretty even records, particularly in the white-ball formats, Irish fans will look back on 2019 and likely consider how the team didn’t quite meet their potential, both on the field, and later off it.
Ireland’s year began in Oman in February, with a T20I quadrangular series against Scotland, the Netherlands and the afore mentioned hosts. Coming into the tournament on the back of some poor results in the shortest format in previous years, Ireland exceeded expectations beating Oman and breaking their 5-year curse against the Dutch. This looked partly to be the result of moving their batting all-rounder and talisman Kevin O’Brien to the top of the order to partner Paul Stirling, but was also aided by performances by some youthful additions to the Irish squad, including Josh Little and Shane Getkate. Despite 2 wins out of 3, Ireland finished third, tied on points with Scotland and the Netherlands, but on a weaker net run rate.
Ireland then moved on to Dehradun in North India to take on Afghanistan in a multi-format tour. Starting with three T20Is, Ireland were demolished at the hands of the Afghani batting, which included the Afghans equalling the T20I record total of 278 in the 2nd T20I, with a 62-ball 162 from Hazratullah Zazai. Despite some hefty hitting in return, Ireland never really threatened the Afghani totals.
The 5-match ODI series was a different story. Comprehensively beaten by the spin of Mujeeb Ur Rahman in the 1st ODI, bowled out for 161, and with the 2nd ODI washed out, Ireland hit back in the 3rd game; Afghanistan were reduced to 74/5 in the 19th over by a combination of Irish bowlers. Ashgar Afghan and Najibullah Zadran steadied the ship, and lifted Afghanistan to 256/8, which looked a good total. And it may have been a winning one but for a brilliantly measured 145* from Andy Balbirnie, backed up by George Dockrell which levelled the series at 1-1. Ireland were then flattened in the 4th ODI, bowled out again for 114, before fifties from Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie in the 5th ODI helped to draw the series 2-2.
Ireland and Afghanistan each moved on each to their 2nd ever test match. Batting first, Ireland were skittled to 85/9 in the first two sessions. If not for a punchy 54 from no. 11 Tim Murtagh restoring Ireland to 172 all out, it could have been a lot worse. From there on, the teams were quite even, Afghanistan making 314 in their first innings, Ireland 288 in their second with Balbirnie top-scoring with 82. Afghanistan were set 147 to win, which they knocked off with 7 wickets to spare. Ireland very much lost the game on the first morning.
Ireland’s home summer began with an ODI against England at Malahide. ODI debuts were awarded to James McCollum, Josh Little, and on the back of a late injury to Stuart Thomson, Mark Adair. Rain shortened the match to 45 overs a side, but when the game got going it turned into a cracker. What looked to be a low total was raised to 198 by a punchy 32 from Adair. England then collapsed from 34/0 to 66/5 and then 101/6 following a destructive spell from Little. Had they chosen to review an incorrect LBW call on Ben Foakes, they may have run through England for the win, but Foakes and Curran dug the visitors out to win the game by 4 wickets.
Ireland then played host to the West Indies and Bangladesh in a 7-match tri-series in Dublin. This turned out to be a poor series for the Irish, comprehensively beaten in all three completed games, including a 196 run walloping at the hands of the West Indies at Clontarf, in which Campbell and Hope produced a world record 365 run opening partnership. Small positives came in the form of a high volume of runs for Stirling and Balbirnie in the three completed matches.
The next series was at home to Afghanistan in Belfast as apart of the visitors World Cup preparations. The 2-match series was drawn 1-1; Ireland comprehensively winning the first game through an all-round bowling performance including 4-19 from Adair and a miserly 0-17 from 10 overs from spinner Andy McBrine. The second game was one-sided in favour of the visitors, a Mohammed Shazad century creating a target well out of the reach of the hosts.
Ireland would then wait a month for their next international action, hosting fellow World Cup exiles Zimbabwe in 6 match white-ball tour. Ireland took the ODI leg 3-0, their first ODI series whitewash over a full member. Despite the series scoreline looking one-sided, the first two ODIs could have gone either way, the second only won by 5 runs. The T20I leg saw Ireland play a very youthful side; along with the afore mentioned Adair, Ireland turned to their youngsters including Shane Getkate, Gareth and David Delany in preparation for the T20 World Cup qualifiers. The series was drawn 1-1; the first match was washed out, Ireland won the second after a Stirling masterclass but were undone by strong Zimbabwean batting in the third.
In the 2nd ODI against Zimbabwe, veteran Tim Murtagh picked up his first international five-for. He wouldn’t have to wait long for his second. In Ireland’s historic first test match against England at Lord’s, William Porterfield won the toss and elected to field. Handing the new ball to Middlesex seamer Murtagh and test-debutant Adair, the Irish bowling attack ripped through the England batting line up, perhaps bleary-eyed following their World Cup win on the same ground 10 days prior. Murtagh claimed 5-13 in the session as England were all out for 85 at lunch. Ireland’s batting faired a little better, with Balbirnie adding his second test 50, though by the close of day 1 they too were all out for 207.
Day 2 saw England recover, and Ireland frustrated by a stellar 92 from night-watchman Jack Leach. England were bowled out for 303 on the first ball of day 3, but from there, under a grey sky at Lord’s, it suddenly went very dark for Ireland.
Set an inviting 182 for an historic first test win, Ireland crumbled at the hand of Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad. In the morning session of the 3rd day Ireland were skittled for a mere 38, the 5th lowest total in test history and only McCollum reaching double figures. What could have been Irish cricket’s greatest day turned out to be on of their most horrid.
A little time to recover was increased by the cancellation of the Euro T20 Slam. In its absence, the three aggrieved boards played a 6-match tri-series at Malahide as prep for the T20 world cup qualifiers. Ireland’s first game against The Netherlands was washed out. They lost their other game against The Netherlands but beat Scotland in both fixtures, including a 1 run win in the final game that saw them top the table. As well as established figures such as Balbirnie and Stirling making runs, Ireland’s younger stars stepped up, including match winning performances from Adair and Gareth Delany.
The last warm up before the world cup qualifiers came as a pentangular series in Oman along with Nepal, Hong Kong and The Netherlands. 3 wins from 4 games left Ireland 2nd, beaten by champions Oman. The form looked sufficient to qualify, having beaten the Dutch and brushing aside Hong Kong in representative conditions. The Hong Kong win also saw Kevin O’Brien make his first T20 century, and the first for an Irishman in T20Is. In doing so, O’Brien also became the first Irishman to make a century in all 3 international formats.
So onto the qualifier itself, Ireland’s last on-field test of the year. Grouped with hosts UAE, Oman, Hong Kong, Canada, Jersey and Nigeria, the Boys in Green would have backed themselves to qualify for the playoffs without much difficulty, and they started so, once again cruising past Hong Kong on the back of a pair of fifties from Stirling and Balbirnie. In the second game against the UAE, they crumbled, posting 125 all out and losing by 5 wickets. Now on the backfoot, and against an in-form Oman in their 3rd game, an unbeaten 89 from Gareth Delany set an imposing 184 to win. Delany then went on to lead the attack, taking two early wickets as Ireland won by 35 runs. Ireland’s fate was back in their hands…
But only for 24 hours. Game 4 vs Canada saw Ireland never really take control and chasing 157 to win, fell 10 runs short. Once again, Ireland’s fate was out of their hands. Their final two games against Jersey and Nigeria were expected to be smooth sailing, but they needed to win big to boost their net run rate and aid their qualification chances. Jersey were bowled out for 105, and the target chased in 14 overs. Nigeria were kept to 66/9, Ireland completing the chase in 6.1 overs. The wins were a sufficient boost for their NRR, and meant they had qualified for the playoffs, but to qualify automatically would require Oman to slip up against Jersey. Of course, somehow Jersey pulled off an unlikely victory and Ireland topped the group, proceeding directly to the semi-finals.
Ireland faced a resurgent Netherlands in the semis, and they were comprehensively beaten, making only 137/9 in pursuit of 159. It led to a 3rd place playoff against Namibia, and despite a poor batting performance, bowled out for 135, tight bowling from Adair and backed up by spinners Delany and Singh, Ireland bowled Namibia out for 108, securing 3rd place.
On the field, Ireland will be a little bit disappointed with their performances. Let down by two poor sessions with the bat in their two test matches in games that were otherwise balanced, middle order stability in the test side will need to be a focus in the future. A fairly even record in ODI cricket looks good, but it was mostly narrow wins, and mostly heavy defeats. In the T20s despite a few wobbles across the year, signs of a new era of talent are evident. As the members of the ‘Golden Generation’ that saw them create huge upsets at 3 world cups approach their retirement, young stars are starting to break through. Above all, Mark Adair has been the player of the year, making a huge impact with bat and ball and across all 3 formats. But also, good young spinners in Gareth Delany and Simi Singh and genuine fast bowlers in David Delany and Josh Little are emerging. A handful of talented batsmen, James McCollum, Lorcan Tucker and Harry Tector are showing potential to blossom.
But it’s the off-field struggles that will leave a sour taste in the mouth at the end of the year. With their promotion to full members, Irish players have been unable to sign contracts as domestic players in England’s county system. All of the existing contracts have now expired, and this has led to some difficult decisions for a handful of Irish internationals. Whilst Paul Stirling has made the decision to return from Middlesex, veterans Stuart Poynter and Tim Murtagh have called time on their international careers to extend their county contracts.
Ireland’s financial wobbles are well documented. A board that aims to be as self sufficient as possible, to the extent that until this year had never taken out a loan of any form, had to be bailed out very briefly by CEO Warren Deutrom after a broadcast deal failed to pay up in time. Ireland’s financial woes were compounded just before Christmas when they announced that the planned home test vs Bangladesh was to be cancelled and replaced by an additional T20I as hosting the test would stretch the budget too thin. The proposed T20I series against Afghanistan was simultaneously cancelled. Days later, it was announced that the away test vs Sri Lanka was to be ‘postponed’ due to a lack of a broadcast deal.
Cricket Ireland raises a reasonable proportion of its own money but is set up to run with very little in the way of reserves, and hence no buffer room if something goes wrong. Additionally, CI receives around $5m from the ICC, less than half that of Zimbabwe. It means every penny has to be efficiently spent, and such any loss in potential revenue hits hard. In the wake of the cancellation of the Euro T20 Slam, it’s likely CI has seen no return on its investment, and the loss of money has resulting in the curbing of fixtures for 2020.
Despite the loss of half their planned test matches, there is still much to look forward to for Ireland in 2020. They start up immediately in January with a 6-match white ball tour of the West Indies, their first as full members. They will also have 3-format tours to rivals Afghanistan and Zimbabwe in a busy winter.
The home summer sees Ireland host Bangladesh for 4 T20Is (potentially hosted in England due to the refurbishment of Clontarf) and 3 ODIs, including the first game of the ODI Super League. They will also host New Zealand for 3 T20Is and 3 ODIs as part of the Super League, and then 2 T20Is against current world no. 1 Pakistan at the end of June. July and August are currently clear, and so the ET20S may yet return. September sees Ireland take on their third Super League series away in England. Finally, in October Ireland travel to Australia for the T20 World Cup, in which they are grouped against Sri Lanka, Oman and Papua New Guinea in Geelong. With an extra qualifying spot available for the 2nd round, Ireland will fancy their chances of extending their trip.