Ireland bowed out of their third World Cup with yet another impressive display, winning three of their six matches -- against West Indies, Zimbabwe and UAE. They only missed out on a spot in the quarter-finals owing to their poor run-rate. Ireland lived up to their reputation of being giant killers by claiming the scalp of West Indies in this edition. In 2007, they had defeated Pakistan, and in 2011, England. Ireland's batsmen put up a fantastic show during the course of the World Cup, and only disappointed in a couple of matches. It was the lack of pace in their bowling that cost them dearly in the series. They just did not have the bowlers needed under the conditions.
If you reflect at Ireland's performance in the World Cup, all three victories were achieved thanks to their batters. Against West Indies, they chased 330 plus, against UAE, they had to chase down more than 280, and did so successfully. Even versus Zimbabwe, they survived because they had a massive score to defend. The losses against India, South Africa and Pakistan completely exposed their weak bowling. Of course even their batsmen did not fare as well against these three top sides. But, they did post competitive scores against India and Pakistan. The bowlers just could not make anything out of it.
If you look at Ireland's bowling attack, there is a sameness to it, which makes them stale and rather predictable, especially in conditions prevalent in Australia and New Zealand. John Mooney and Alex Cusack are earnest tries, who run in at a leisurely pace, and place the ball on a particular length, hoping for the pitch to do something, or for the batsmen to make a mistake. Paul Stirling did well in one of the games, but he is a containing bowler as well. Kevin O'Brien, on the other end, is a 'hit me' bowler, who only bowls because Ireland do not have many options. What Ireland desperately need is to discover another Boyd Rankin, who gave the team the much-needed edge. Unless that happens, Ireland will continue to struggle.
While their bowling is definitely a concern, Ireland should be extremely pleased with the way they have batted in the series. Almost everyone from the top and middle order have made significant contributions towards the team's cause. Paul Stirling kicked off the tournament for Ireland with a superb century, and skipper William Porterfield finished off with one, albeit in a losing cause. Among others Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien brought all their experience into play, and were the cornerstones of the team's batting. Andrew Balbirine is rated very highly in Ireland, and during the course of this World Cup, he proved why. Kevin O'Brien and wicket-keeper Gary Wilson also made important contributions in key phases.
The most disappointing aspect for Irish cricket, and it should be for world cricket as a whole, is that Ireland may not feature in the 2019 edition with the ICC deciding to trim the World Cup down to 10 teams for the next edition. That would be a massive anti-climax for Ireland. They have really come on in leaps and bounds ever since their World Cup debut in 2007. With further exposure, they can only improve. But, now they find themselves in a situation from where they may not be seen in the World Cup in the near future. That clearly is not the right way ahead. Looking at the performance of associates in this World Cup, they must reconsider their decision.
--By A Cricket Analyst