Another new day and another series that’s about to go underway in the new decade. 2020 has only just begun. But there’s hardly a dearth of excitement across formats in the game.
While on the one hand, India and Sri Lanka are engaged in a sub-continental tussle, South Africa and England have locked horns for supremacy in the Test format.
Similarly, just as Australia are making light-work of the touring Kiwis, in another part of the world, amid cool breeze and sandy Caribbean beaches, the West Indies are awaiting their maiden challenge of the new year, in the form of Ireland.
The West Indies vs Ireland 2020 series, consisting of 3 ODIs and as many T20s, offers a fresh start to both international sides to lift their game in the limited-overs format, not the most successful template for either side.
While Ireland will be stepping on the ground for the first time in 6 months, ready to embrace their first assignment since finishing third for the ICC Men’s T20 World Qualifier in Dubai (2019), the West Indies will find themselves in a fairly comfortable position as they take the ground at Kingston.
This is not only since they’ve only recently played ODI cricket (the tour to India, 2019), but also because amid the comfort of playing at home, they’ll reminisce the period of peak performance evidenced just last year when they faced the Irish and waged a brutal assault with the bat at Dublin.
But a lot has changed for both sides in terms of team composition and leadership.
The last time around when the West Indies played belligerently against the Irish, they were led by Jason Holder and had the services of Darren Bravo along with the likes of the experienced pace kingpin Kemar Roach.
This time around, as Holder has been ‘rested’ following a busy cricketing season that lies ahead- in the build-up to the T20 world cup- the leadership rests in the talent of an in-form Kieron Pollard while the likes of Bravo and Roach are out as Pooran, King, and Hetmyer form the leading stroke makers in the side.
Similarly, a lot has changed for Ireland, a team that’ll feature in its first overseas assignment since the retirement of one of their stalwarts: Tim Murtagh. Led by Andrew Balbernie, ‘proud’ to usher the team in a new decade, the Irish will look return a compliment to their opponents, having embraced a flurry of freely-scored runs by Hope, Cambell, and company in 2019.
But which are the players that hold the key for the West Indies vs Ireland 2020 series?
Andrew Balbernie- Can The Captain Make It Count?
After former captain William Porterfield stepped down from his role as the leader, one of Ireland’s most regarded batsmen took over the leadership mantle: Andrew Balnbernie.
An experienced campaigner, Balbernie, who’s only 29, has already scored above 1800 runs and featured in 63 games. Thus far, he’s scored 5 ODI tons and struck 8 fifties and bats with comfort and application against both pace and spin. While an average of 31 doesn’t do justice to the young batsman’s talent, there’s little doubt about his quality to score from the top of the order.
One of the key facets of the West Indies vs Ireland 2020 series would be how the newly-appointed captain can step into his new role and contribute to his side.
Shai Hope- Windies Will Want Hope To Continue Dream Run
8 ODI hundreds, 15 fifties, over 3000 ODI runs, including 1345 runs in 2019 alone, Shai Hope is perhaps the most important and resourceful West Indian batsman in the current line-up. He holds the promise to deliver the thrills for the West Indies and does so on more occasions that would please his opponents.
That he’s been in sublime form and now gets the opportunity to return to the 22 yards, where he feels at ho
me, should inspire his side and caution the Irish.
What’s brilliant from a West Indian perspective is that the last time he faced the men in bright greens, he turned the occasion into a morbid event for the Irish, scoring 170 runs, starring in a 365-run opening stand alongside John Campbell.
Can Shai Hope continue to shine and pile on the runs?
Gareth Delany- Can The Young All-Rounder Leave An Impression?
Gareth Delany is a cricketing newborn for all intents and purposes. Someone who’s already played 17 T20s and is yet to make his ODI debut, Delany is a handy leg-spinner who can contribute with the bat from the middle and the lower-order.
Thus far, his most sparkling moment in international cricket came against Scotland, in 2019, against whom an all-round effort, that yielded a match-winning fifty (52) and a vital 2-for guided the team home comfortably.
But against the West Indies, not the most menacing or threatening bowling attack and a batting line-up that can suddenly go fragile on a given day, Delany will have a golden chance to produce something memorable, and make the most of his maiden limited-overs series. Given the fact that not all Windies batsmen barring Hope, Pooran and Hetmyer handle spin all that well, a key component of the West Indies vs Ireland 2020 series will be Delany’s ability to entrap the Caribbean batsmen in his web of leg-spin.
Nicholas Pooran- A First For Pooran Against The Irish
With 728 runs under his belt already, Nicholas Pooran who’s only just arrived in international cricket, left little to the imagination in 2019.
He batted with great power and diligence, something one doesn’t always find among batsmen who usually prefer exhibiting brute power over pacing an inning. In that aspect, Pooran, who’s so far, struck 1 hundred and 5 fifties already in just the maiden year of his career, proves to be a fine anomaly in the Windies line-up.
Among the batsmen who’ll be expected to score handsomely during the West Indies vs Ireland 2020 series, Pooran will look to make the most of his first-ever series against the Irish.
Boyd Rankin- The Go-To Pacer For Ireland?
In the absence of the great Tim Murtagh, the onus will be on the experienced Boyd Rankin to deliver for his team. A vastly experienced cricketer who doesn’t emote much and doesn’t rub his victories over his opponents, Rankin will be expected to trouble the Windies batsmen with his pace and bounce.
A veteran of the game for Ireland, Rankin, with over 100 international wickets can be a handy exponent with the white ball, someone who can easily put the brakes on scoring and collect one dot ball too many. Should that happen, Rankin, who’s yet to take a fifer in ODIs, will be keen to correct the only blemish in his limited-overs journey.
Brandon King- Opportunity For King To Bat Like One
It doesn’t take long for anyone noticing Brandon King to spot his talent and the ability to find the gaps. At 25, King is a newcomer to this West Indian side, a team flourishing with attacking batsmen. Perhaps if King was found losing his wicket cheaply in the T20 contests, held earlier against India, then it could be down to the prevailing culture of the West Indians living too dangerously for their own good.
The only ODI that King has featured in thus far, was against Afghanistan where he scored a fluent 39, something he’ll be keen to rectify this time around. That he’s yet to feature in several games to even hold an assessment of his talent is something that’s as true as the Windies stellar run against Ireland thus far in ODIs.
But that said, the decisive factor in the West Indies vs Ireland 2020 series will perhaps go down the hosts’ way unless the Windies lose the plot to dominate a team they’ve so easily rattled in the past. Yet, at the same time, Ireland will be reminded of the 2015 World Cup heroics where they overcame a huge ask by the Caribbean batsmen as if it were child’s play. Can the visitors cause an upset down in the Caribbean?