Associate nation and potentially considered easy-beats by some, Ireland have put the rest of the Cricket World Cup on notice, delivering an extraordinarily complete performance to topple the West Indies in a high-scoring affair in New Zealand.
The match, at Saxton Oval in Nelson, could well have been a complete trouncing, following a remarkable bowling performance from the Irish that ripped through the West Indian top order, at their worst having them poised on the brink of utter disaster at 5/87. But a rapidfire innings of 102 off 84 balls from Lendl Simmons, and a bludgeoning knock from cult favourite Darren Sammy who clubbed 89 off 67 deliveries, salvaged the innings for the West Indians, who recovered to post an imposing total of 7/304 from their 50 overs.
But it was the Irish remained the better team for the majority of the day, successfully mowing down the total with just over four overs remaining for the loss of six wickets, thanks to some superb batting from their own top order. Opener Paul Stirling fell agonisingly short of a century of his own, smashing 92 from 84, whilst Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien combined magnificently for an extremely swift partnership of 96, with Joyce hitting 84 off 67 and O’Brien registering an innings of 79 off of 60.
This isn’t the first instance of Ireland punching well above their weight, with the minnow cricketing nation having developed a reputation for giant killing in recent years. In 2011, Ireland defeated arch-rival England in one of the biggest boil-overs ever seen in World Cup cricket, and in the 2007 tournament, they managed to progress to the second round on the back of victories over both Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The West Indian team, conversely, limped through today’s proceedings with hangdog expressions painted all over their faces – barely registering enthusiasm for late wickets in the Irish innings.
Aside from the fine displays of hitting from Simmons and Sammy, their effort was, at best, half-hearted, and at worst completely disinterested. The once-famous and fearsome bowling lineup now exuding none of the piss and vinegar that made attacks of decades past so venomous. Their fielding was limp and ineffectual, creating unneeded errors at crucial times. The upper batting order performed with all the purpose of a damp sponge, and included managing to get number 3 Darren Bravo run out without facing a ball. As a unit they are as underdone as any major cricket playing squad has been in recent memory, and the feeling that a long tournament is in store for them cannot be shaken.
The Irish, on the other hand, are a well drilled, extremely cohesive unit. And a performance like this signals that progressing through the Pool stages of the tournament is not only not impossible, it could well loom as a likely outcome.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins via Getty Images.