MThe Irish come to Australia to escape the rain. But the rain that fell from the leading Melbourne skies brought great joy to the Ireland men’s cricket team as they asserted their biggest ever T20 victory, beating England in the T20 World Cup.
“I’ve seen torrential rain in my time playing cricket, and I’ve never been happier to see it rain when it did,” Ireland captain Andy Balberni said in the post-match press conference.
To suggest that rain was a major factor in the outcome is to diminish an outstanding achievement in Irish sport. The England captain, Joss Butler, said his team had completely outplayed him.
Ireland deserved to win. When their players drenched while celebrating with small pockets of Irish fans singing in the rain in the MCG stands, the feat was not lost on Balbirnie.
Ireland completed another impressive World Cup win to sit alongside Kingston 2007 and Bengaluru 2011. This is the third time they have beaten England in international cricket, including Southampton 2020.
But this may be the greatest victory ever, on one of the greatest stages of world cricket. Ireland had never played at the MCG before. This is the charm and charm of the place. The Irish players toured the Australian Sports Museum located in the members’ wing on Tuesday night and took note of an Irish MCG special sports victory before adding another just 24 hours later.
“It will always be a special place because of tonight,” Balberni said. Ronnie Delaney [1500m, 1956] He won a gold medal here at the Melbourne Olympics, and you see his name etched into the history of Irish sport forever.
“I hope we’ve done something similar. I’ve always said cricket isn’t a big game in Ireland. We’re the flag-bearers, and we want to make it as big as possible. But it sure is a pleasure to play here, to captain the first Irish team to play here.”
The real significance of this win may not be in who they defeated, or what stage they won. It may fall to those who orchestrated it.
In Melbourne there were only two members of the team that won in Bengaluru and neither Paul Stirling nor George Dockrell were significant contributors.
There were also four significant changes from the Irish side that did not progress to the second stage of last year’s T20 World Cup, with two new faces, Lorcan Tucker and Fionn Hand playing a key part in the victory. Tucker’s 34 of 27 was vital alongside Balbirnie for a half century, as the pair compiled an 82-lap podium in the face of a spell from Mark Wood.
Hand later delivered one of the balls of the tournament, it returned through Ben Stokes’ gate, to leave England reeling at 29 for 3 in the powerplay. Combined with Josh Little, Mark Adair and Barry McCarthy, Ireland’s attack was as key to their success against England as they were against the West Indies.
Balbirnie believes his young group is emerging from the shadows of Ireland’s golden generation, which was led by Kevin O’Brien.
“He’s one of the best cricketers we’ve ever produced, but we knew we needed to move on from players like that,” Balbirni said. “What he contributed was amazing, and I probably didn’t get a chance to say that at the time he retired.
“The guys that have come in have shown that it is not just this generation that is the golden generation. This generation, with Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker and Josh Little, is a special group of cricketers, Mark Adair, and there is a lot of them. Fionn Hand showed today: he got into the T20 For the third time he showed he could make an impact on the game with the ball.
“This generation has laid the foundation for us to be professional cricketers. We wouldn’t be here without them, we have to admit that. But it is also our duty to take the game as forward as we can with a group of players.”
There is an acknowledgment that this current generation should have done it a little differently. For all the positivity about Ireland’s promotion to become a full member of the ICC, there has been an outpouring of negative impact. The price of being able to play Test cricket was that Ireland’s best players could no longer cut their teeth in England’s county system like locals before advancing to international level. They should have done it differently.
“I really thought that not playing county cricket would tarnish the way our little boys get on,” Balbirni said. “I think my opinion has changed a bit, the way I’ve seen our youngsters play. It’s always been a case of sinking or swimming for a lot of our youngsters.
You have to see how they go at the highest level, and you have the names that I mentioned earlier that have stood out and been key members of this team.
“That’s the hand that’s been dealt. We’ve got the Test case, we have to produce our own cricketers, and we’re starting to do that.”
Tucker believes the different path to Ireland’s golden generation has its own benefits. “We don’t have the opportunities those boys had,” Tucker said. “But we have a lot of international cricket. I think that’s our final school now. I’ve played quite a few international matches and I think most of it has been learning.”
The proof is in the results. A more aggressive and fearless mentality led by Balbirni and coach Heinrich Malan achieved victories over the West Indies and England in the space of a week.
“The perverse effect is that victories like tonight will spark some interest back home,” said Balberni. “Well.. I hope so. If it doesn’t, I give in. We want to see those kids play the game. It’s a great game, and it has given me great pleasure. Nights like tonight can hopefully ignite a future generation of Irish cricketers.”
Ireland no longer hooligans rain on the big boys parade. There is a belief and sense of belonging to build upon after a celebrated day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. –Cricinfo