Sunday, November 27, 2022

Cricket Ireland: Andrew Balbirnie – “We want to be a team that people want to watch”

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Ireland Men’s captain Andrew Balbirnie said that while he was disappointed to be leaving Australia after his side’s T20 World Cup exit, he believes that Ireland played some good cricket and that the squad can be very proud of their efforts at the tournament.

Having negotiated their way through the First Round with memorable victories over Scotland and West Indies, Ireland entered a tough Group Stage that included current title-holders Australia, pre-tournament favourites England, Asian Cup winners Sri Lanka, as well as New Zealand and Afghanistan.

The highlight of this latter stage was the victory over England, while the side was possibly left to rue missing out on the chance to play Afghanistan after recently beating them in a T20I series at home during the summer. Spirited performances against Australia and New Zealand won many admirers of the style of play the Irish team had adopted, and reflecting on yesterday’s defeat to New Zealand, Balbirnie said:

“When you’re playing a top class team, you have to be on it for a lot of the game. We were probably a bit off. We had a good start with the bat but couldn’t really capitalise on that. And when you’re playing a top team, you must capitalise on your starts. The trend during this world cup has been – you don’t have to go too hard in the power play, you can make it up – so we managed to do that a bit. Myself and Paul set a platform, but unfortunately neither of us kicked on and made that big score to win the game.

“I thought we bowled pretty well. Our fielding has probably been a bit off during this tournament. We’ve dropped a few catches, which we’ll look back on, but we’ve had a pretty good tournament all round and I think the guys can be very proud. I think we’ve got to be happy. At one stage in the qualifying group we were looking like we were going home. Then we beat Scotland, got on a bit of a roll, and caused a couple of up upsets along the way. We’re playing better cricket than we were 12 months ago. But to get to where these teams are, we’ve got to go again.

“Halfway through our chase against Scotland, if you’d told me we’d be playing in the last game of the Super 12’s still mathematically in with a chance of reaching the semi-finals, I think we’d be pretty happy. There’s a couple of moments in the last couple of games where you thought, what if, but at the same time we’re still a bit away from these top teams. We need to keep improving and playing regular cricket against them to improve, to expand our squad as much as we can so that we have guys who are ready to come in whenever they get the opportunity. We’ve played some pretty good cricket and it’s just a shame that we couldn’t create something really special.”

One of the highlights of this world cup has been the form of left-arm pace bowler Josh Little. The 23 year-old, who celebrated his birthday last Tuesday, has had an eye-catching tournament – taking 11 wickets, which included a brilliant hat-trick against New Zealand. Balbirnie said: 

“Josh has been really impressive. He’s had a great 12-18 months. He sets the tone from the off, bowls really well in the power play, but to be fair I think he’s been backed up pretty well by most of the guys as well in the bowling unit with spin and seam. They’ve all trained hard, and they’re starting to show their class, and hopefully long may that continue. But yeah, Josh has got such a big future ahead of him. He’s a key asset for us, no doubt.”

Balbirnie acknowledged that a more aggressive style along with having more clarity in their roles have been key factors in their improved showing in the T20 format:

“Clarity is the word. If you look at our batting order last year, there was a couple of guys that were floating a bit, not really sure of what role they needed to play to get in the team. We’ve changed that a bit. I think having a lot of games this year has definitely helped and it’s given guys confidence in the clarity. It’s all well and good having that clarity of thought, but to be able to actually go out and play with that is a big bonus. So, we knew we needed to have a change of a shift of mindset after last year’s World Cup, and it’s easy to say it, but I think the guys have worked so hard.

“We’ve given them roles and they’ve adapted to them pretty well. Sometimes the aggressiveness isn’t going to come off and I’ve said that before, and sometimes it will and will look amazing. But as long as guys are clear with what they want to do and have that intent, we want to be a team that people want to watch, whether we win or lose. It’s always nice to win, but I think over the last couple of weeks we’ve showed that we can play some pretty good cricket.

“We’re by no means the finished article, but I think we certainly are a better team than we were 12 months ago. And that’s all you can ask for, and hopefully in 12 months’ time we’ll be even better than we are now.

“We understand how important we are in trying to sell our sport, if you know what I mean. And the women’s team who are playing in Pakistan, that’s such an important tour for them as well, and for the organisation as a whole. T20 cricket naturally is a more attractive game for the non-cricket fan. So, certainly our T20 cricket has been inconsistent over the last couple of years, and we want to get better. I feel we are getting better and hopefully that can have a knock on effect as it ripples down the ranks.

“As disappointing as we’ve finished this tournament, it’s very important to know that this isn’t our be all and end all. We’ve got so much cricket ahead of us. We’ll have a few weeks off – I’ve got a honeymoon to go on, which I can’t wait for – and once the new year starts we’ve got red-ball, T20, and ODI cricket to look forward to.”

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