x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Irish under pressure to find progress at World Cup

Ireland have struggled to live up to expectations after 2007 success and they are unlikely to find life any easier today against England.

When England and Ireland met at the World Cup four years ago in Guyana, the highlight of the match was the seventh delivery.

Ed Joyce, who had left his mother country to try and make his name with England, shouldered arms to Boyd Rankin and watched the ball nip back to shatter his stumps.

Joyce is now back in the Irish fold, having played just one more game for England. In the interim though, Eoin Morgan, the most promising batsman from that 2007 squad, has moved in the opposite direction, though injury has prevented him from making the trip to the subcontinent with England.

That first Irish World Cup adventure is fondly remembered for their upset victory over Pakistan and for a comprehensive thrashing of Bangladesh in the Super Eights. But having started with a narrow defeat against the Tigers in Dhaka, the pressure is on to prove that 2007 was not just a case of luck.

If they are feeling the weight of expectation, Ireland are not showing it. William Porterfield, the captain, turned up at the pre-match press conference with purple hair, a response to the Irish Cancer Society's Shave or Dye campaign.

Rankin, the 6ft 6ins giant who should enjoy the conditions in Bangalore a great deal more than he did in Dhaka, has gone blue, a bizarre choice given that he is a Liverpool supporter and they play in red.

England's dramatic tie against India was possible largely because Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen added 68 at seven an over. Having put on 105 against the Netherlands, they are now one of the opening combinations to watch for, and Porterfield will need Rankin to strike early as he did in Guyana if the Irish are to have any chance.

Ireland could go for the pace-spin bowling combination that several teams have favoured with the new ball in this World Cup.

George Dockrell already has an English county contract with Somerset and given Pietersen's travails against left-arm spin, he could be asked to try his luck at the start of the innings.

"It's definitely an option for us," Porterfield said. "He's bowled in the power plays for us before, and he's bowled in the first six overs in Twenty20s so that's nothing new to him. He knows how to bowl with the new ball."

England have a few bowling quandaries of their own after the pasting that they got from Sachin Tendulkar and the India batsmen. While Tim Bresnan was the standout bowler with five for 48, everyone else struggled. Questions are being asked about James Anderson, the attack leader who has figures of one for 163 for the tournament.

"There's not a lot of margin for error on these wickets," Bresnan said on the eve of the match. "The Holland pitch was a very good wicket and the one the other night was probably the best we've ever played on. Jimmy will be disappointed with his performance but he's a quality bowler and I know he'll bounce back from that."

After missing the India game with an upset stomach, Stuart Broad is back into contention. With conditions again expected to favour the batsmen, it will be the bowling that both sides focus on.

"Any Irish sports team playing an English team is always pretty special for them, and especially to people back home," said Porterfield when asked about the significance of the game.

"They always want to see us get one over on the English, so I'm sure there'll be plenty back home watching and hoping for a positive result from the Irish."

If he and his teammates can pull off what will be seen as one of the upsets of the tournament it will be St Patrick's Day a fortnight early for Irish fans.