x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The Irish are becoming the talk of town at the World Cup

Even a week ago, most fans in Bangalore were pretty lukewarm about the Ireland game with two easy points the consensus. Now the game is sold out.

Ireland's players celebrate their win over a forlorn England on Wednesday, and their success has created much interest from home supporters ahead of today's game with India.
Ireland's players celebrate their win over a forlorn England on Wednesday, and their success has created much interest from home supporters ahead of today's game with India.

As St Patrick's Day mornings go, it was particularly glum. The Irish fans inside the Sabina Park in the West Indies for the World Cup match against Pakistan in 2007 were on good form, but a large number were also anxiously awaiting updates from the final weekend of rugby union's Six Nations.

It had been 22 years since Ollie Campbell and other heroes won their last rugby title and despite the Irish thrashing Italy, France rallied to beat Scotland and claim the title, meaning the painful wait would continue.

The pall of gloom lifted quickly though. Ireland's pace attack, comprising teachers, interior decorators and other part-timers, cut a swathe through a listless Pakistan line-up and long before lunch, the Elvis impersonators were behind the leprechaun doing a celebratory conga. In the heat of the Caribbean in March, it takes a brave man to dress up.

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Cotton-Eyed Joe, an American folk song that had been made popular by a Swedish band in the mid-1990s, blared from the speakers as Pakistan's innings disintegrated. The favourites' flags became still and a lighter shade of green was everywhere.

Along with the traditional songs such as Molly Malone and The Fields of Athenry, the fans - many of whom had thought the cricket would be a pleasant diversion in a Jamaican holiday - wasted no opportunity in having a go at the old enemy. After Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq were dismissed, they started chanting: "Are you England in disguise?"

By day's end, enthusiasm had given way to delirium. The tie against Zimbabwe had been achievement enough, but the improbable victory against Pakistan suddenly opened up the possibility of another month in the Caribbean. Players and fans alike started to think about extended leave and budgets.

March 17 being such a special day in the Irish calendar, they would have partied anyway, but the revelry in the coastal resort of Ocho Rios lasted well into the next morning, and ended only with the tragic news of the death of Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach.

Four years on, there are nowhere near as many fans in India. The Irish economy, like others, has suffered in the interim and cricket tourism is not a viable option for most. But those who have trekked east have brought with them the enthusiasm and sense of fun always associated with the Irish.

As in the Caribbean, the locals have taken to both the team and the fans, even if most cannot make any sense of the Irish accent. After the victory against England, William Porterfield's press conference saw a lot of local journalists sitting slack-jawed, wondering what on Earth he was saying.

Long before the final run was struck on Wednesday night, the couple of thousand neutrals at the ground had made their loyalties clear. Each time the Shamrock Brigade sang or roared in delight, the locals would echo their joy. Just as those in England's northeast and northwest adopted the diminutive North Koreans during the World Cup in 1966, it can be taken for granted that Ireland will enjoy plenty of support in India.

Except today. Even a week ago, most fans in Bangalore were pretty lukewarm about the Ireland game. A straightforward two points was the general consensus. But after India's stutter against England and subsequent Irish heroics against the same opposition, no one is talking about a formality and the game is sold out.

The Irish have made the front page of newspapers and been featured on most television channels. The talk of the town after his astonishing 50-ball hundred, Kevin O'Brien, was asked about his Indian Premier League (IPL) ambitions. "Who wouldn't want to play in the IPL?" he said. "A lot of people have said that Twenty20 suits me, the way I swing the bat and hit a few sixes. If something comes of that, even better."

Niall, his brother, who was the only Irishman on the list for the IPL auction last January, went a step further. "Hopefully we can do well and hopefully they will come and speak to us so that myself and Kevin come and live in India for a bit," he said to Cricinfo.

As for the giant hoardings that feature cricketers and are such a common feature of the Indian skyline, he said, tongue firmly in cheek, "It would be nice to get me and my brother up there, two very good-looking men."

The older generation of Indian fans can remember a time when their team were underdogs, and there's certainly a soft spot for the Irish, whose anonymity-to-glory story strikes a chord. They won't be cheering for the men in green today, but over the next two weeks, there will be corners of Indian fields that feel just like Lansdowne Road or Croke Park.

 

sports@thenational.ae