Ireland bidding to defy expectations again at WC

Last Updated: Feb 09, 2011, 18:33 PM IST

London: Four years on from its momentous World Cup debut, Ireland travels to the subcontinent more experienced, better prepared and boosted by the return of a former opponent to the fold.

Ed Joyce played 50 times for Ireland before switching allegiance to England in 2006 in order to fulfill his dream of playing top-level international cricket. Now he`s back with his native Ireland.

A late selection for England`s World Cup squad in 2007, Joyce looked on as the country of his birth enjoyed a dream debut, upsetting former champion Pakistan and making a surprise appearance in the Super Eights.

"Obviously I was out there playing for a different team," Joyce said. "But the (Irishmen) performed amazingly and they got amazing support both out there and back home in the pubs.”

"Hopefully we can do the same thing out in India this time."

England, on the other hand, stumbled through the 2007 tournament, and though it did beat Ireland in the Super Eights, failed to progress any further. Joyce was among those to pay the price for the World Cup failure and he never represented England again.

Now 32, Joyce was cleared to play for Ireland again in November and joins a squad featuring eight of the players who put the country on the cricketing map in 2007.

While Joyce returns to the fold, big-hitting batsman Eoin Morgan went the other way to play for England, but was ruled out of the World Cup squad this week due a broken finger. As long as Ireland is only an associate - rather than full - member of the International Cricket Council, it will always be in danger of losing its most promising players.

Despite that, Ireland has made strides in the last four years. Its preparation for this World Cup included a month in India late last year and a January training camp in Dubai.

Thirteen of the 15-man Ireland squad are full-time cricket players, compared with only three in 2007.

Boyd Rankin, who bowled Joyce for one in the 2007 group match against England and took 12 wickets in nine matches, has been retained by Ireland and has recovered from injury in time for the World Cup.

The team will again be led by William Porterfield, one of seven players who has a contract in English county cricket, and the squad also benefits from the experience of a number of naturalized Irish, including Australia-born bowler Trent Johnston, another of the stars of 2007.

Batsman Paul Stirling, 20, and 18-year-old spin bowler George Dockrell represent the future for Ireland.

"There has always been a huge amount of talent around," Joyce said. "It`s coming to the fore now because the guys are getting contracts that allow them to put a lot more time into playing the game.”

"The structure of Cricket Ireland has changed hugely as well. It`s gone from being a pretty amateur set-up to where it is now. Hopefully in the next five or 10 years it will move on even more. We want to perform well at this World Cup and grow the profile of the game as much as the boys did in 2007."

Despite its progress, the new World Cup format means it will take an even more surprising run for Ireland to match its 2007 performance.

Its opening match on Feb. 25 against host Bangladesh shapes as a must-win encounter. Ireland will then play England, India, West Indies, South Africa and the Netherlands.

The top four in each seven-team group advance to the quarterfinals.

Coach Phil Simmons, the former West Indies allrounder, believes Ireland is much better placed to progress this time around.

"It makes such a difference having the guys full-time," he said. "We were also able to spend a month in India acclimatizing (in November) and that will stand us in good stead.”

"We`ve reached the Super Eight phase of both the World Cup and the World Twenty20 and there`s no reason why we can`t make the latter stages yet again."