Ireland out to upstage establishment
Ireland must beat at least one of two Test-playing teams if they are to reach the second stage of a top-tier International Cricket Council tournament for the third time in successive attempts.
England and ICC World Twenty20 hosts West Indies have their vulnerabilities, of course, but neither has the look of a soft touch for Ireland in Guyana.
Even so, Ireland coach Phil Simmons is full of optimism as he prepares his squad for another assignment in which progress beyond their two group matches will lead many to conclude they have once again over-achieved.
Simmons is making no fancy predictions. But there is a confidence in his voice as he notes Twenty20, more so than either of the other two international formats, presents the best opportunity for a shock result.
There is fair reason too for his faith in the ability of a group of players still largely staffed by those who exceeded all reasonable expectations on their last high-profile Caribbean foray, when they reached the Super Eights stage of the World Cup - something which proved beyond, among others, the sub-continent powerhouses of India and Pakistan.
There was no place for Ireland in the 2007/08 World Twenty20 in South Africa. But once again in England last summer, Ireland were still in there with a say when only six matches remained.
Former West Indies batsman Simmons was in charge then, having succeeded Adrian Birrell after the 2007 campaign - and he is sure Ireland are becoming increasingly well equipped to take advantage in a cricket sprint which gives them and other aspiring nations a fighting chance of beating the big boys.
“I think it’s easier to pull off a shock in Twenty20 because recovery time is less than in 50 overs,” he said.
“We have played that little bit more Twenty20 than we had going into the last World Cup - so we are slightly wiser about Twenty20 cricket. That has to be a good thing.”
There are other handy factors in Ireland’s favour too.
Several of the squad - World Cup captain Trent Johnston, his successor Will Porterfield among them - will have good memories of the Caribbean, although England were among the victors as Ireland drew a blank in three matches in Guyana three years ago.
There is also a helpful blend of continuity - through the likes of all-rounder Johnston, opener Porterfield, the O’Brien brothers and fast bowler Boyd Rankin - and emerging talent such as teenage batsman Paul Stirling and Gary Wilson - wicketkeeper-batsman Niall O’Brien’s capable understudy.
A clutch of the above have the know-how and confidence which comes with county cricket pedigrees, as well as the international expeditions, on their CVs.
Their two opponents this time round ensure there is evident extra motivation, as if any were required.
Porterfield, O’Brien et al have the chance to prove themselves against England’s luminaries - taking on the best talent available to the country where the Irishmen ply their trade as professionals.
It goes without saying too that for Trinidad-born Simmons, pitting his wits against the West Indies in the Caribbean will be a special occasion.
Simmons discounts, meanwhile, that there are any complications his team could do without during Ireland’s ongoing attempt to convince the ICC they are ready for a step up the ladder towards full member status.
Yes, the pressure is on; but that is inevitable on these occasions.
“The stakes are always high, whenever you are taking on these full member top teams with a chance to show you are improving,” Simmons points out.
“It’s not something we even think about. We just go out to play as well as we can and make sure we take our opportunities.”
Simmons is not about to get too carried away either by the kudos which would come for Ireland if they could somehow get the better of two such appropriate group opponents.
Irrespective of his and his team’s connections with both, Simmons is delighted with a draw which keeps Ireland apart from champions Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa - at least until the latter stages of the tournament.
“It’s nice (for me) to be playing in the West Indies and for the players to be taking on England too,” he concedes.
“But this is the group we would have taken too; we are happy with that.
“From our point of view, it is about trying to improve our performance every time we take on teams at this level - and Twenty20 is no different.
“It is a format we are not experienced in, but we have to keep picking things up as we go and make sure we use them.”