Dublin: Gary Wilson remembers the last time an Indian team was in Ireland to play cricket. It was 2007, and he made his international debut in an ODI featuring the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
I was out bowled against India (off Piyush Chawla), but it was a pretty special day still. It was a decent crowd in Belfast and we have seen India’s traction for big crowds wherever they go. I guess Roger Whelan got Sachin Tendulkar bowled as well. That’s basically what I can remember (from 2007),” Wilson said on the eve of the first T20I in Dublin.
On Wednesday, 11 years later, he will lead Ireland out against India as the Men in Blue visit the country for only the second time in their cricket history. It is an odd thing, but we know how this plays out. Full Members don’t play Associate Members often, and there have been only four India-Ireland clashes since that first one in 2007. Why, the two teams have even only played one T20I, back during the 2009 World T20.
Gary Wilson, though, is a pragmatic man. Along with William Porterfield and Kevin O’Brien, he was part of that 2009 game, and he knows how things haven’t worked out in the last decade for small cricketing countries like Ireland. Much like cricketers from Full Member nations, he is not one to lament.
Obviously, we want to play as much cricket as we can because games against high quality opposition will help us improve quicker. With the FTP coming out, we have 65 T20s over the next four years and another 13-14 Tests, which is a lot of international cricket,” he said.
This journey of improvement perhaps then begins on Wednesday against India. Make no mistake, this is an important milestone for Irish cricket, even if not of the scale of their maiden Test against Pakistan. The likes of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma garner enough eyeballs wherever they go, and the world will sit up and take notice if Ireland manage to bother their esteemed guests.
It will be easier said than done, however. This isn’t Test cricket, wherein Pakistan were troubled on a green top. This is about slam-bang and TRPs, with Cricket Ireland looking to rake in money. The pitch will be flat and shorter boundaries will play into the hands of some of the most ferocious T20 batsmen in world cricket at present. Ireland have already told their players to go out and enjoy the fast-clip action of T20 cricket. In other words, this may be a David versus Goliath battle, but the little guy is aware of ground realities.
Perhaps the most excited among the hosts will be 31-year-old Punjab-born Simranjit Singh. Growing up in Mohali, he has played junior cricket with the likes of Virat Kohli and Yuzvendra Chahal, and is good friends with Siddarth Kaul. But he couldn’t make it in India as an opening batsman, so came out to study here in Ireland. Now, he is their prime off-spinner and is expected to take the field against his erstwhile nation. Irrespective of his bowling figures, cricket will be richer on the morrow thanks to this story.
It is not to say that there is no chance of an upset, but most of that equation will be dependent on India’s focus on sterner tests ahead. This two-match series is but a warm-up before the T20Is and ODIs against England get underway next week, almost like an ‘acclimatisation before the real acclimatisation’ for the Test series in August. India’s itinerary is a complicated one this time around, yet well planned within the same parameters.
They were beaten 4-0 and 3-1 in the Test series on their last two Test tours here in 2011 and 2014, respectively. The common thread? On both those trips, India played the longer format before getting into the limited-overs’ leg. In 2002 and 2007, that schedule was reversed and history thus showcases different results. Playing Tests after ODIs and T20s allowed Sourav Ganguly’s men to steal a 1-1 draw and then Rahul Dravid returned three years later to register a 1-0 triumph on English soil.
Kohli will be keen to repeat history during this English summer, on both a personal and team basis. Yet, when taking the field on Wednesday, he has more pressing concerns regarding the bigger picture of the 2019 ODI World Cup. How does the middle order shape up? Can he leave out in-form KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik, or does he consign Suresh Raina (prospective bowling option) or Manish Pandey (fine T20I record in 2018) to the bench? There is only enough space to fit in three of them, if India do decide to go in with a five-pronged attack including Hardik Pandya.
There is the added question of whether to play two spinners. Kuldeep Yadav will get the first nod if the decision is to play three full-time seamers, otherwise Chahal will come in. Achieving this fine balance, whilst giving a run out to their most important players before the England series, is what India will strive for on Wednesday.
India Squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Siddarth Kaul.
Ireland Squad: Gary Wilson (c & wk), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell , Josh Little, Andy McBrine, Kevin O’Brien, William Porterfield, Stuart Poynter, Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson.