Ireland’s aspirations to join the international Test cricket fold have been trumpeted far and loud of late, but one of the Emerald Isle’s most experienced players has offered a blunt assessment of where his team currently stands.
In the wake of hefty ODI defeats at the hands of South Africa and Australia in recent days, Ireland’s wicketkeeper and top-order batting mainstay Gary Wilson has conceded their historic African sojourn has exposed some glaring deficiencies.
Shortcomings the Irish will be addressing over the coming four months during which they take an extended hiatus from international playing commitments and prepare for their next challenge.
A nine-match multi-format bilateral series against Afghanistan – a nation also touted as a potential addition to the existing 10-team global Test match roster – to be played in the Afghans’ adopted home ground at Greater Noida near New Delhi in India’s north.
In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s nine-wicket humbling by Australia at Benoni, which came two days after a similarly hefty 206-run defeat by the Proteas at the same venue, the Ireland team under coach John Bracewell held a lengthy debrief to try and plot a path forward.
Wilson, the 30-year-old ‘keeper-batsman whose 71 ODI appearances is the fourth-most for his country and who has recently ended a decade-long stint with English county team Surrey, said the nature and the magnitude of the two losses had provided plenty of food for thought during the upcoming winter hibernation.
“We’ve seen in these two games what the best players in the world do, and that’s what we’ve got to aspire to,” Wilson said after Australia chased down Ireland’s total of 198 with 20 overs to spare.
“We’ve just had a pretty good chat, the beauty about it is we’ve now got four months without any cricket and it’s four months that we’re going to have to get our heads down and work hard.
“And we’re going to have to aspire to be somewhere near this level because quite evidently over the last two games there’s been a gulf in the class of the two teams.
“I think everyone is genuinely pretty excited about this four months and getting into the nets or getting into the gym and working hard, and putting things right.
“We’re going to have to get on the bowling machine and face it at 90 miles an hour, at our heads maybe.
“And work at being able to hit that ball for four or six, and not just getting out of the way of it.
“Or rotating the strike a little bit better, getting ones off their good balls because that’s what they do.
“That’s what South Africa and Australia do, they get ones off our good balls and then they make sure our bad balls go for four.”
The gulf between Ireland, a stand-out among the ICC’s associate nations for much of the past decade, and two of the world’s top-ranked ODI teams was best exemplified at the start of each team’s innings.
Where the Proteas’ pair Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock and their Australia opening batting counterparts David Warner and Usman Khawaja took the game away from Ireland within the first 10 overs of their respective innings.
But despite the disappointment of failing to fire on their first bilateral (or trilateral) tour to a Test-playing nation other than lowly Zimbabwe, Wilson believes there was more to be learned from playing against international benchmarks than regularly beating up on other struggling associate teams.
“Definitely, because with the greatest respect to the teams at our level in associate cricket, an away-swinging half-volley at 82 or 83 miles per hour might nick some players off – David Warner’s hitting it for four,” Wilson said.
“We’ve seen what David Warner or Usman Khawaja or Quinton de Kock do whenever they go out to bat, or what the (opposition) lads do whenever they’re bowling.
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“We’ve seen even South Africa and Australia both had new caps (making their international debuts) there with the ball, and the transition has been seamless for them because they’re used to playing at such a high level anyway.
“And they’ve come in and they do what they do, which is good enough at this level.
“At the minute, we haven’t quite put up a good enough fight.
“But this is as hard as it gets, make no mistake about that.
“Coming to South Africa, it’s the first time we’ve ever been invited to a full member nation bar Zimbabwe, to play against one of the international teams in their own backyard.
“So it’s a huge experience for us.
“And whilst we’re not just happy to take that experience and just turn up here and get beaten like we have been, with the work that hopefully everyone is going to do we’ve got to be confident of going to India next year and taking down Afghanistan.”