Ireland perhaps had one of the worst years as a cricketing nation in 2021. They were abysmal in the T20 World Cup in the UAE, where they lost to Namibia; they lost an ODI series against the Netherlands, and to round the year off they also succumbed to a T20I defeat at the hands of USA.
However, they began 2022 with a historic ODI series win over West Indies and never looked back from there.
Ireland this year seemed like a rejuvenated bunch who aimed to leave a mark. None more than Joshua Little, whose impressive performances for his country in white-ball cricket earned him a maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) contract – the first from his country to do so.
Little was picked up by defending champions Gujarat Titans for INR 4.4 crore, over eight times his base price. That came as a ‘little’ surprise given the left-arm pacer’s extraordinary rise this year.
Little also finished as the second-highest wicket-taker in T20Is this year, only behind Kenya’s Yalinde Nkanya who bagged 45 scalps.
What has set him apart is the fact that he is equally good against left-handers and right-handers, can move the ball both ways and is also reliable across all three phases.
Barring his performances for Ireland this year, which has been remarkable, his stock has significantly risen in tournaments like The Hundred, where he picked up a fifer for Manchester Originals and also was a standout performer for his country at the T20 World Cup 2022 that saw him pick up a hat-trick against New Zealand.
Ireland played just six ODIs this year and Tector scored over 50 in five of those matches, including two superb tons against New Zealand. If it was not for a certain Michael Bracewell, Ireland could have easily won the series, but it did not go their way. Not too long before that, Tector played a couple of gems against India, which saw Ireland nearly home.
He scored an unbeaten 33-ball 64 in a 12-over affair first-up and followed that up with a useful 39 off 28 as Ireland finished with 221 on the board, chasing 226. Moreover, the 23-year-old also got the experience of playing in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) 2022, playing alongside the likes of Jason Holder, David Miller and Quinton de Kock. In his first knock at No. 3, Tector (47 off 44) played second fiddle to Azam Khan (64 off 42) in a match-winning century stand.
Speaking of Tucker, the wicketkeeper-batter was promoted up to three in T20Is at the end of last year and has been one of the key figures for Ireland’s top performance in 2022. His unbeaten 45 against West Indies and 71 not out against Australia in the T20 World Cup stood out.
If it wasn’t for his knock, Aaron Finch's side may have made it through to the semis on net run-rate, but Tucker fought a lone battle and restored some respectability to an otherwise poor show from his side’s batters.
Ireland’s biggest scalp in the World Cup has to be their win over England in the Super 12s. Skipper Andy Balbirnie finally found some form with the bat while Little once against delivered with the ball to send the openers Jos Buttler and Alex Hales back to the hut with just seven runs between them.
Ireland have also inducted a few new players into their side, especially in the bowling department, with the likes of fast bowlers Graham Hume, Conor Olphert and Fionn Hand, who knocked Ben Stokes over in the World Cup. Not to forget, Ross Adair with a T20 strike-rate of 178, makes the cut for the T20I series against Zimbabwe too next year. The likes of Tyrone Kane, Benjamin White, Stephen Doheny and Neil Rock too return to the team to add further depth.
Ireland still have it in their hands as far as automatic qualification to the 2023 World Cup is concerned. They have to win all their three games against Bangladesh for them to secure the eight spot in the ODI Super League series in May. Else, they will play the Qualifiers in Zimbabwe from which only two teams make it through.
They have to play regional qualifiers to have a chance of qualifying for the T20 World Cup in 2024. Along with Scotland, they are the favourites to make it through to the 20-team event in the USA and West Indies.
However, the real bone of contention has been their lack of opportunities in Test cricket. They have played just three Tests since becoming full-members in 2017, with the last one coming in 2019. They are due to play just one more Test in 2023 – against England at Lord’s in June. They are due to play as many as 12 Tests in the next FTP cycle between 2023-27, which certainly comes as terrific news for a side, who are hoping to leave a mark outside their white-ball achievements.
While 2021 was a tough one for Ireland, Balbirnie’s side can look at 2022 as a year that has resurrected them to a certain extent and has given them a platform to take on 2023 and beyond head on.
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