Ireland secured their place at next year’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia on Sunday after finishing top of Group B at the qualifying event in the United Arab Emirates.
Playing six matches over the course of eight days, Gary Wilson’s side finished ahead of Oman on net run-rate to seal their automatic place at the showpiece event and avoid entering yet another qualifier for their spot.
Their campaign isn’t over just yet as they’ll take on either the Netherlands or the United Arab Emirates in the semi-final on November 1 before a potential final or third-place play-off.
Here are 20 thoughts on the group stage as the men in green celebrate their place in a sixth T20 World Cup!
1. Qualification is all that mattered – Heading into the competition you knew that it wasn’t all going to be plain sailing but that qualifying for the World Cup was the only thing that mattered.
Ireland had to take their lumps with losses to both Canada and the United Arab Emirates but they really thrived when it was most important to book their spot in Australia and performances at this point are largely irrelevant.
The cut-throat nature of the tournament really is brutal and that can be attested to by the fact Scotland and the Netherlands didn’t automatically qualify in Group A, so safely navigating that format is a wonderful achievement.
2. Versatility was absolutely key – Ireland showed their ability to change plans and adapt with the circumstances, and that versatility was ultimately crucial to their qualification.
Andy Balbirnie, who has been one of Ireland’s best for the past two years, was ill for the Oman clash but Gareth Delany slotted in at three like he was batting in a net session, playing with absolute freedom to score 89* while he was again promoted against Nigeria to end the game as quickly as possible.
There were other changes to the batting order with Mark Adair promoted at times while on the bowling side Adair shared the new ball with a variety of team-mates including Gareth Delany and Boyd Rankin.
3. This might be the sweetest campaign for Gary Wilson – Wilson entered this tournament with a mountain of pressure on his shoulders with many calling for him to be dropped from the side.
That just can’t be easy as captain of a team that are expected to qualify for the World Cup with relative ease, so to deal with those captaincy pressures as well as the calls for his dropping says a lot about his character.
Yes, he hasn’t scored the number of runs he would have liked in 2019 but lets not forget he had an eye injury that almost claimed his playing career and give him massive credit for the way he navigated his men through choppy waters.
4. We might not know our best team yet, but that isn’t necessarily bad – It appears that Ireland have a nailed on 10 when everyone is fit currently but they are leaving that 11th spot open to assess conditions and then go with whoever they deem best for that certain match.
Every member of the squad apart from Simi Singh played at least one match during the group stage with Craig Young, Shane Getkate, Stuart Thompson and Lorcan Tucker all in and out of the side, whether that be selection or enforced with Tucker replacing the aforementioned ill Balbirnie in one game.
Having a settled side is always the way forward and Ireland generally have that, so as long as all remaining squad members are ready to go, having that element of surprise and freedom for selection could be very positive.
5. It isn’t all positive of course… – While it is brilliant that we qualified for the T20 World Cup we do have to be honest and say that losses to the UAE and Canada are a bit of a cause for concern.
This team is still relatively inexperienced on the international stage so you can forgive some upset defeats because ultimately they didn’t matter, but that inconsistency is something that will have to be addressed and fixed.
The UAE defeat was particularly rough as Ireland struggled to 125 from 20 overs before their opponents chased it in 17 overs and we may still have too much reliance on our top three, which is understandable given the quality that Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien and Balbirnie all possess.
6. Hi World, meet Mark Adair – You just know that come this time next year when Ireland are taking on the world’s best that the headlines are going to be circulating about how good Mark Adair is – he’s just that sort of player.
The 23-year-old loves when the lights are bright and the stakes are high, starting with his ODI debut against England, following into the Test match at Lords where he dismissed Joe Root twice and now helping his nation seal qualification for a World Cup.
The world’s media will be surprised that an all-rounder from Ireland has just taken major scalps or smashed a quickfire 30 from 12 balls, but people that have watched him this year will barely flicker an eyelid at it due to how common it has become.
7. Ireland are developing some real options with the ball – This tournament showcased how far Ireland’s bowling attack has come in a short space of time, and in particular the fast bowling unit.
Adair is a major part of that, bowling in the powerplay before returning at the end, but he was well-supported by Boyd Rankin, David Delany and Craig Young when he was in the squad for the last two matches.
Gareth Delany had the unenviable task of opening the bowling on occasion with his leg-spin but did an admirable job and it’s exciting to think he will be competing (or maybe performing alongside) Jacob Mulder at some point in the near future.
8. Paul Stirling on absolute fire – Stirling is genuinely a world-class talent in the shortest form of the game and he proved that once again with his performances during the group stage.
He scored three half-centuries (against Hong Kong, UAE and Jersey) as he got Ireland off to a flying start and he showed his experience by taking all the responsibility and really cashing in when he was set.
The Belfast-born opener has been robbed of opportunities to continue his domestic career in England with Middlesex and The Hundred due to the ECB’s shady-at-best new rules, but hopefully he can pick up a deal with another county while playing around in the world in other T20 competitions.
9. Surprised Getkate wasn’t given more opportunity – Look, obviously Graham Ford who has coached Sri Lanka, Surrey and now Ireland amongst other roles knows hell of a lot more about cricket (and this squad) than someone who peaked at 16, but I was surprised Shane Getkate wasn’t given more chances during the group stage.
Ireland are blessed with options with Stuart Thompson, Mark Adair. Gareth Delany and George Dockrell in those all-rounder role while Craig Young was brought in to add more firepower with the ball for the final two games.
Getkate entered the tournament having held his nerve to secure a Tri-Series trophy for Ireland in Dublin against Scotland and the Netherlands and having played well for Instonians and the Northern Knights, I just thought he would have been given more chances than the one match he got.
10. Delany’s and Harry Tector paving the way – There has never been a better time to be a cricketer in Ireland with the Inter-Pro system taking off, Test status and competing against the world’s best as part of the Future Tours Programme, and both Delany’s and Harry Tector have shown if you perform you’ll be given a chance.
David Delany was hitting 92mph at points throughout the group stages before suffering an unfortunate knee injury while cousin Gareth Delany has really stepped up over the past month or so to establish himself as one of the most important members of the squad.
19-year-old Tector banged the door with his performances for YMCA, Northern Knights and then Ireland A where he was captain, so these guys are showing that if you have a sustained level of success you’ll be given a shot and it’s then down to the individual to take it, which those three certainly have.
11. Craig Young a story of perseverance and quality – When players are dropped from international squads it can sometimes be such a hammer blow to confidence that they struggle to come back from it, but Craig Young didn’t let that initial setback define his career.
A move to North Down and a good level of performance for the North West Warriors helped to get him back into the Ireland fold and he was rewarded with his best ever international figures of 4/13 against Nigeria in the final group game.
He has played 24 T20I matches since making his debut in June 2015 against Scotland so has had to deal with some tough times during that, but he is back now and showing he more than deserves his spot.
12. Gareth Delany continues to improve – Delany only came into the T20 squad for the first time back in June but he has taken to international cricket extremely well and hasn’t shied away from responsibility – if anything he craves it.
Opening in the Tri-Series back in Dublin ahead of the qualifiers he gave us a sneak peak of the power hitting ability he has, and he gave another good showing against Oman. scoring 89* in what was a must-win encounter.
He will likely have a floating role going forward, stepping up to three if a wicket falls in the powerplay to keep the momentum going or slotting in at four behind Stirling, O’Brien and Balbirnie on a standard day.
13. Ireland’s record breakers – Paul Stirling now holds the record for number of runs scored in T20 cricket in a calendar year (694) after going past Shikhar Dhawan’s 689 which was posted in 2018.
Stirling has only played one more innings (18) than Dhawan did last year and averages 43.37 with a strike-rate of 142.50, which is a truly remarkable effort.
Kevin O’Brien (690) also went past Dhawan during the group stages and currently has a strike-rate of 159.35 during T20’s in 2019, with Ireland’s opening pair racing to end the year on top of the pile!
14. Aim is now to create some real batting depth – As mentioned before, the bowling attack has developed some real depth and now the younger generation of batting stars will look to provide similar support to the top three.
Stirling, O’Brien and Balbirnie provided 453 runs of the 786 scored by Ireland over the six matches during the group stage while Delany’s 89* was the only really big contribution with the bat outside of those three, so Ireland just need to continue to develop that batting depth.
Tector has shown signs he is more than up to that task in the matches before this qualifying campaign while Delany will continue to improve, Tucker is waiting to show what he’s all about in the shortest form and Adair can clobber the ball miles too.
15. Exciting times for a relatively young squad – There is a lot of experience in the squad in terms of games through the likes of Wilson, Rankin, O’Brien, Stirling and Balbirnie, but if you look at the rest of the players there isn’t a massive amount of it.
The likes of Adair, Tector and both Delany’s only have 50 T20I caps between them so it’s an exciting time for Irish supporters to see how this current crop progress and where they end up.
It’s important they are allowed to experiment, to fail and to work out their game and it seems we as a nation are willing to give the younger stars that time to show their greatness.
16. A nod to our Inter-Provincial system – The Inter-Pro’s came back in 2013 and over the past couple of years we have really developed a lot of depth through those three competitions.
Leinster Lightning have long dominated that scene but in 2019 the Northern Knights really came to the fore, winning their first trophy in six years and had eight players represent Ireland in the calendar year, and could yet be further bolstered by the potential return of Paul Stirling.
The North West Warriors also have a star roster with Stuart Thompson, Boyd Rankin, William Porterfield and Andy McBrine all turning out with regularity in different formats, so we are starting to see the fruits of the Inter-Pro labour.
17. Did I mention Mark Adair had a good campaign? – I’ve been like a truly broken record out here over the past week or so on social media and now website about how good Adair was during the qualifiers, but let’s just delve further into the numbers.
From six matches and 24 overs, Adair ended with figures of 10-110 which equates to an economy of 4.58 runs while bowling in the opening powerplay and then at the end again. Come on now.
Since bursting on to the scene last summer he has been a revelation and has taken 46 wickets in 2019 across all formats, which is literally a record-breaking season.
18. David Delany’s raw pace – Ireland have been crying out for someone who can break that 90mph mark with the ball and they’ve now found it in David Delany.
Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston said that his spell for them against Leinster at Stormont during an Inter-Provincial Championship fixture was the quickest he had ever watched live, and now it’s clear how truly rapid Delany is.
Getting up to 92mph at times, his pace is probably enhanced by the fact it’s skiddy and hopefully he is able to stay fit over the course of his career because it’s going to be some sight to watch if he does.
19. Ireland rise to the challenge – Ireland left themselves needing two massive wins in the final two games to put all the pressure on Oman, and you have to give them a lot of credit for producing performances when it mattered most.
Nigeria struggled throughout the whole competition so it was always expected that would be comfortable, but an eight wicket win over Jersey with six overs to go looks even better now when you see how they outplayed Oman.
Successfully rising to the occasion is a brilliant trait to have for a team, and while they put themselves in a tough spot after losing twice, Ireland were able to take their lumps and then pull it out of the bag when needed.
20. What an opportunity – It’s probably hard to put into words just how big a result this is for Ireland and the opportunity this group of players now have in heading to a World Cup.
It’s been tough at times over the last couple of years having missed out on the 50-over World Cup after failing to qualify but Ireland now have something to really look forward to after putting in so much hard work.
The Test match at Lords against England was brilliant and such an occasion, but this qualifying campaign was always going to be the most important part of 2019 and Ireland have came through that test to give their supporters something to really cheer about.