Ireland will take their place at the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia next October after securing a spot at the tournament through the recent qualifying competition in the UAE.
Finishing top of Group B ahead of Oman, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Canada, Jersey and Nigeria, the Irish eventually finished third in the qualifying tournament that was won by the Netherlands.
It was very much a case of mission accomplished as Gary Wilson’s side picked up four wins in their six group matches to secure an automatic spot at the showpiece event next year.
Although their main goal of winning the whole competition didn’t come to fruition, Wilson is just pleased his side progressed.
“We went there wanting to win the competition, so firstly it’s disappointing that we weren’t able to do that,” he said.
“Having been so used to playing those qualifying tournaments and particularly in the UAE, we have always had a good record there. In years gone by you could have penciled us in for a final spot at least, so to not do that is disappointing.
“I don’t want to harp on about how inexperienced we are but the fact of the matter is we have a lot of young players and with inexperience comes performances being a bit up and down.
“I think you saw that throughout the competition with one day being very good and the next not so good. At the end of the day, we have qualified and it was job done.”
Their reward for getting through the qualifying process is a spot in Group A in the first round alongside Sri Lanka, Oman and Papua New Guinea, with the top two then entering the Super 12 stage where the world’s elite will await.
It was no cakewalk for Ireland in the Middle East, suffering losses to the UAE and Canada before topping the group.
“It was definitely the strongest qualifying tournament I’ve played in,” added Wilson.
“I’m not just talking about the other teams that qualified, but right the way down from 1-14. Obviously it was Nigeria’s first attempt at the qualifiers so they didn’t have the strength that the other teams had.
“If you look at the teams that didn’t qualify, Singapore turned over Scotland, Jersey turned over Oman and Canada turned us over, so it was a very closely fought competition.
“It’s one with a lot of pressure and high stakes that it’s difficult to play with the freedom you’d usually get in a T20 match.
“Also, I think the wickets weren’t conducive to going in and clearing the ropes all the time. If you got 140, you were in the game and we had that in the back of our minds. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t seem to chase so well which is unusual for us because we have chased so well in the past.”
This was the culmination of a busy 2019 for Ireland’s T20 side, who also won a Tri-Series involving Scotland and the Netherlands in Dublin before flying to Oman for another warm-up competition ahead of the qualifiers.
Undoubtedly a tense and unforgiving schedule, those sort of experiences will surely bring the group closer together and Wilson says everyone was looking out for each other.
“It’s been really intense,” he said.
“I think those two series were really good for us before the qualifiers and it allowed us to get what we felt was our strongest side. Some people really stuck their hands up going into the qualifiers, so although it was intense it was definitely needed.
“I said at the start that we needed to get around each other, especially if things weren’t going well and really look after each other over the next six weeks because a qualifying tournament is intense.
“People can get worried about qualification and external factors, so it was just important we stuck together. I think we did that throughout the tournament.
“Some results went our way but I don’t think you can top a group without deserving too over a six game period.
“Although it was on run-rate, I think we deserved to go through in the first place and unfortunately we ran into a very strong Netherlands side in the semi-final.”
It was a real team effort that got Ireland over the line, with all 15 players originally named in the qualifying squad playing at least one game.
The starting XI was fairly settled with slight adjustments made for different matches, but Wilson feels the squad is now at a place where everyone has the capability to produce big performances.
“I said right the way through that we were really happy with the bench,” he added.
“It was the first time in a long time that we felt anyone could play and could have a good claim to play. It was a real plus to be able to call on guys.
“Simi (Singh) came in and got man of the match in the final game and showed what he can do. Lorcan Tucker was unlucky – he could have played in a couple of games as a batter for sure. The guys attitude throughout the tournament was first class.”
Mark Adair was arguably the star of Ireland’s campaign alongside Paul Stirling, with the 23-year-old all-rounder picking up 12 wickets throughout the competition to bring his 2019 tally to 48 from 27 matches.
That is more than any other Irish player this year, beating out Boyd Rankin by one, and it has been a whirlwind six months for the Northern Knights man who only made his international debut in May.
“I’m really pleased for him,” said Wilson.
“He has came in and really put his hand up and his attitude has been first class since he came into the squad. It’s great to see someone new coming into the squad doing so well.
“Him, Gareth Delany, David Delany, Harry Tector – those are all young guys that will benefit so much from this.
“While they don’t have the experience right now, I really think in one, two or three years time you’ll have a seriously experienced and therefore good team. You will really see the rewards of playing these guys now.
“They are doing it at the minute, and Mark did it in almost every game which is incredible for someone of his age.
“It’s just about getting more consistent for those guys and once that happens, adding to the consistency of other guys around them, we will have a really good team.”
Skipper Wilson came in for criticism throughout a large majority of the past couple of months, with many calling for him to be dropped from the side.
In 2019, he averaged 14.24 across all formats but he is more than confident that he will be able to turn that around.
“Criticism is part of it,” he said.
“I try not to read too much and certainly don’t go looking for it, but when you get tagged in something on Twitter it’s difficult to avoid.
“I give my best and I’m aware I didn’t score the runs I wanted to this year. I give my best in all areas of the game whether that’s leadership or runs, and I’m very confident that I’ll be able to turn my own form around.
“Although I don’t think I’m playing particularly badly, sometimes in T20 cricket things can go very quickly and I feel like I’m hitting the ball well in the nets.
“I have a good period of six or seven weeks now to work on some aspects of my game before the West Indies and I’m confident I can get some runs there. I don’t think you’re ever as good or bad as people say you are.
“Criticism is part of it and all I can do when I get the opportunity is give my best both from captaincy and playing point of view.
“I feel we have brought the team forward in terms of T20 cricket in the past 18 months, so that’s pleasing.”
Ireland have a jam-packed 2020 schedule starting in January with six matches against the West Indies (three ODI, three T20) before further away tours against Sri Lanka (one Test match), Afghanistan (one Test and three T20s) and Zimbabwe (one Test and five T20’s).
Graham Ford’s side will have played at least four Test’s, 12 ODI’s and 22 T20 matches before the T20 World Cup rolls around on October 18 and Wilson is excited about the year ahead.
“The ODI’s start in the first or second week of January and then it’s on to the T20’s,” he added.
“We go from there to Sri Lanka, India and Zimbabwe before we have any home series. I’m looking forward to it and it’s always a great privilege getting to play for Ireland, so it’ll be no different in January.”