Jet lag has kicked in as I rise bright and early in the morning from an airport hotel in London Heathrow. We overnighted here, so that we could come home and meet the media at lunchtime today in Dublin Airport.
Since I last wrote, we have played our last two games. Against South Africa, we bowled and fielded extremely well in front of 300000 spectators at the famous Eden Gardens Stadium in Kolkata. It was amazing to hear the vast majority of that crowd cheering for Ireland. It seems we have made quite an impact on the subcontinent and their cricket loving public. Early on there was plenty for the crowd to cheer and at one point we had South Africa in real trouble at 117 for 5.
One thing that really impressed me was how tight the South African team spirit is. From the moment they were in trouble every single member of their squad sat out on their viewing area clapping every run taken thereafter. A great effort considering the viewing area for the teams at Eden Gardens is terrible, level with the ground and very obscured, indeed many players often choose to watch on the television in the air conditioned comfort of the dressing room. Probably also an indication they were worried and realized the danger they were in.
Their support and unity was well rewarded as JP Duminy scored 99 and helped bring his team to a very competitive total of 272. Their running between the wickets was excellent throughout and I think it is something that we can take into our own game when returning home. Although they took risks at times and we did get 2 direct hit run outs, they managed to score 115 singles and 24 of those were in the first 10 overs against the Fast bowlers with the field tight. This was an outstanding effort given the high humidity and temperatures of 41 degrees.
Our batting disappointed in the face of a strong bowling attack. Interestingly our run rate was always good and perhaps this suggests some lapses in concentration on our part rather than pressure created by South Africa. However they did take their chances and bowl well to get us all out for a very poor 141. Most of the crowd departed disappointed when the big hitting Kevin O’Brien was out following a partnership with Gary Wilson. I think the depth, team spirit and high levels of fitness South Africa have as a squad, may see them crowned as eventual World Cup winners.
The day after the South Africa game we went to the Kolkata Races as a team, with the remaining partners and Irish media also in attendance. They named a race after us and William Porterfield was on hand to present the winners in the parade ring afterwards. Some of our party also got a chance to ride in the back of an open top jeep and drive alongside one of the races. It was white knuckle stuff all the way as we held on for dear life. It gave me a sense of how brave and skilled jockeys must be and this was only a flat race.
Two players in particular were in high demand for autographs and photographs, George Dockrell and Kevin O’Brien seem to have become quite a hit in India and I hope we will see them playing in the India Premier League someday and getting the rewards they deserve. It was a nice relaxing day and we enjoyed some food and refreshments in the member’s area too. Although perhaps some of us should have stuck to the hotel food, as the effects of something we ate are still being felt!
We then got our focus back onto the Dutch game and prepared as if we were playing one of the ‘big’ teams. We have played Holland so many times over the last few years and we have always executed good bowling plans against them in the past. However, we failed to build pressure or bowl in partnerships and Ryan Ten Doeschate scored a fine century well supported by Captain Peter Borren to bring their final score to 306 all out in 50 overs. It might have been more, only for some good death bowling and 4 run outs off 4 consecutive deliveries, can’t imagine that’s happened too often! Again it was testimony to the hard work the guys have put in on their fielding.
So the stage was set for our batters to express themselves and chase a score over 300 for the 2nd time in the competition. The only surprise for me this World Cup was that we hadn’t had a good opening partnership. However, that was to change as William and Paul put on an amazing stand of 177 for the first wicket. Paul scoring a fine century off just 70 balls, his innings started with total aggression, but finished with finesse as he threaded the ball through the gaps off the spinners and rotated the strike. Niall O’Brien then followed that with a half century of his own, he is in a good place right now and is playing to his strengths with great reward. It was also very pleasing to see Kevin hit two big sixes to win the game, just in case anyone doubted he could do it again. Eventually winning the game by 6 wickets with 14 balls remaining was an excellent way to end our tournament on a high.
That evening we attended and enjoyed a function hosted by the Dutch and Irish Embassies. The event was attended by a wide range of dignitaries, charities, global media and our very own Sports Minister, who I’m sure was impressed by the amount of media interest we generate on the subcontinent. Hopefully Indian and Irish business relationships will be all the stronger after our efforts.
Off the field the players, management and even the wives and girlfriends have been very supportive of charity events throughout our stay. They have attended a wide range of events, above and beyond the call of duty and have clearly been touched by the welcome they received by some of the more underprivileged subcontinent adults and children they have encountered. The day after the Holland game, we went and played cricket with youngsters from one of the slum areas, this was an amazing experience and the children really enjoyed watching the likes of Paul Stirling join in with them and hit big sixes or having Trent Johnston lead them in his famous ‘chicken dance’ celebration.
We followed this with a visit to one of the small but highly impressive Hope Foundation Hospitals. It was a pleasure to meet Maureen Forest who founded the foundation in 1999 and who is really making a difference to the poor and sick of Kolkata. Everything is put into perspective when you encounter the extreme conditions some people have to fight to survive in throughout the subcontinent, from the children who live on the train tracks, to those who live off the dumps. Irish charity organisations we worked with such as SUAS and the Hope Foundation can be very proud of the good work their volunteer members are doing on a daily basis. Educating, healing and giving opportunity to those that need it most.
Provided the opportunity is given to us by the ICC, once the dust has settled we will begin our quest for qualification to the next World Cup in 2015. That tournament will be held in Australia and New Zealand, where I’ve no doubt if given the chance we will draw huge crowds from Ireland’s expat communities there. This summer we have a big home fixture against England and a game in Scotland against Sri Lanka, I hope everyone that has enjoyed our World Cup adventure come out and support the team and hopefully see them create yet more history.