Irish cricket coach Pete Johnston’s Diary

Since the last time I have written we have played two matches.  In both games we got ourselves into winning positions, but unfortunately we failed to convert them into points.

The India game in Bangalore was an experience we will never forget.  The atmosphere was electric and it was great that we managed to entertain a capacity crowd to a close and exciting game of cricket which had plenty of twists and turns.

The stadium in Bangalore is somewhat dated, temporary plastic chairs are placed on the concrete in some areas of the stands, while in others the terracing still remains.  Hawks swoop low to the ground as pigeons fly quickly for cover in the rusty tin roof.  Then as the lights come on, bats fly around catching mosquitos, giving it plenty of character and one hell of a ‘buzz’.

One of the consequences of playing against the host countries in their home conditions is that they seem to be able to prepare the pitch to their liking.  So it was no surprise when the wicket looked very dry and like it was ready to take spin.  A total contrast to the high scoring pitch we had played England on previously.

Despite early wickets batting first, Porterfield and Niall O’Brien put on 100 runs taking us from a perilous position to a position of control where it looked like we were going to get well over 250 runs.  They rotated the strike extremely well against the spin, which is something we have worked very hard on.  However, as has been common on this trip, we failed to register another significant partnership and we were bowled out for a disappointing 207 in the end.

In reply India struggled as they came up against a fired up Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston who hit their lengths early on giving the Indian batsmen very few opportunities to score.   Boyd has had a tough year with an injury setting him back last summer at a time when he was starting to bowl very fast.  Match practice means a lot and it is fair to say he hadn’t really hit his straps until this game, a bit of fine tuning in the nets and a lot of self/belief changed all that.  So the raucous crowd was silenced early on, although Trent ’s ‘Chicken Dance’ to celebrate Sewag’s dismissal did get a massive cheer when it was replayed on the big screen.

Enter George Dockrell to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar in the Powerplay, Sachin is probably the best player of spin in the world.  A little while later and George had sent Tendulkar and the Indian Captain Dhoni back to the pavilion.  There seems to be no challenge too great for the young man.  Even his batting has come on considerably this trip.  However Yusuf Pathan did come and spoil Dockrell’s party late on in the game as he hit two massive sixes and a four in one over which propelled India towards a hard fought victory.

Had Trent Johnston not have injured his knee badly while falling onto the wicket with great force, perhaps the result may have been different.  Another 5 overs from Trent would have seen a great deal more pressure put on them.

Next we flew up to Chandigarh near the foothills of the Himalayas.  Immediately we were greeted by much milder fresher weather.  The other noticeable difference was the increased security, landing in an airport that doubles up as an Army Base and being escorted by heavily armed soldiers and commandos.  The lobby and corridors were also full of the military, while snipers monitored position from roof tops surrounding the hotel.

Our next challenge would be the West Indies in the beautiful venue of Mohali, which boasts its own long room, similar to the one at Lord’s the home of cricket.

We went into the game high on confidence and hopeful of a win against a team that we have played quite often in the last couple of years.  Trent was ruled out through injury, but Andre Botha did manage to take the field despite battling a severe stomach bug.  On a docile slow pitch, Boyd Rankin and Alex Cusack bowled exceptionally well together with the new ball.  Botha and Mooney then supported them well, and after 33 overs the West Indies were crawling at 131 for 3.

Enter the big hitting All Rounder Kieron Pollard and soon the Batting Powerplay was taken.  Off the next 17 overs the West Indies would score a further 144 runs taking them to 275.  Pollard ended up out on 94 off 54 balls, an innings which included 5 sixes and 8 fours.  He even managed to mishit one for six such is the strength of the man.  While he is a difficult man to bowl to, we could have executed our plans better, although he did give us two half chances which we failed to take.  Devon Smith also crafted a fine century to support a competitive total.  Kevin O’Brien ended up with 4 wickets, but the pick of the bowlers was again Rankin bowling with great pace and control.

Early wickets fell in reply but Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien played beautifully to put on a partnership of 44 runs.  This was followed by a big partnership between Joyce and Gary Wilson, putting on 91 runs in 99 balls.  Joyce fell for 83 while Wilson went not long after following a very controversial umpire referral decision.  Kevin O’Brien came and went thanks to an outstanding catch from Kieron Pollard and so the game turned as we failed to find another partnership to win us the game.  Despite the loss, it was extremely pleasing to see Ed bat so fluently and he looked set for a century, while it was also great to see Gary Wilson stand up and perform in the number 5 position.

Tomorrow we play South Africa in the lively city of Calcutta at the opening of the new Eden Gardens stadium.  Calcutta is certainly the hottest place we have been so far.  We hope to perform well again and put ourselves in a position to win and hopefully I will be writing about another famous Irish Victory.


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