Young talent can pro­pel buoyant Ire­land to­wards the big time

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - CRICKET / RACING / RESULTS - GER SIGGINS

THERE’S a new mood around the Ire­land team that kicks off tonight in their first game of the ICC Women’s World T20 in Guyana. A su­perb win over Sri Lanka — ranked three places higher — in Wed­nes­day’s warm-up has buoyed a sea­soned side with an ex­cit­ing sprin­kling of young talent.

Much of the buzz re­volves around Gaby Lewis, still only 17 but al­ready with over 50 caps af­ter four years in the side. Her im­mense prom­ise saw her spend two win­ters with Aus­tralian Big Bash League clubs in Ho­bart and Mel­bourne and paid off for Ire­land with bril­liant half-cen­turies last sum­mer against Bangladesh and New Zealand.

Lewis is one of four teenagers: she, seam­ers Lucy O’Reilly and Lara Maritz and big-hit­ting bat Re­becca Stokell could all play cru­cial roles.

“The team are in great spir­its,” cap­tain Laura De­lany said yes­ter­day. “We’re not here to make up the num­bers — Sri Lanka was a great win. We’ve set our own tar­gets; Aus­tralia are an in­cred­i­bly tough chal­lenge first up but we’re look­ing for­ward to it. Af­ter that is Pak­istan and we def­i­nitely have tar­gets for that game with bat and ball, but we’re not look­ing too much fur­ther than that.”

Clare Shilling­ton made an un­beaten 50 in the win over Sri Lanka, and Ire­land’s most capped player will hope to end her ca­reer in green on a high. The seven lead­ing cap-win­ners are all in Guyana; Kim Garth, back from in­jury, is still only 22 de­spite play­ing her 100th game for Ire­land last week. She showed her fit­ness with an ex­cel­lent all-round dis­play of 35 and 3-4 in de­feat to Bangladesh.

The other half of the ‘Hairy and Brains’ vod­cast team, Ciara Met­calfe, is join­ing Shilling­ton in re­tire­ment af­ter the tour­na­ment, and her leg spin, and Eimear Richard­son’s off-breaks, could be cru­cial on the painfully slow pitches of Providence.

Ire­land have pro­duced a wild­card in Celeste Raack, an Aus­tralian leg-spin­ner with an Ir­ish pass­port. She made her de­but in the warm-ups, taking 2-16 in four overs against Sri Lanka, and says she’s up­beat about Ire­land’s prospects. “Every player has put per­for­mances on the park in re­cent months, in train­ing and prac­tice games, so it’s very ex­cit­ing.”

Fri­day night’s open­ing games saw In­dia sur­prise New Zealand, thanks to a stun­ning cen­tury from Harmanpreet Kaur. Changes to the pow­er­play field­ing reg­u­la­tions and in­creased pro­fes­sion­al­ism have pro­pelled the women’s game for­ward in the past year, fu­elling big­ger and big­ger scores, some of which Ire­land have been on the re­ceiv­ing end of. There were only three T20 cen­turies ever be­fore Septem­ber 2017 but Kaur’s was the sev­enth since then.

It means the tour­na­ment could get un­prece­dented au­di­ences, and with every game shown live on Sky Sports it will fur­ther boost the Ire­land side’s cam­paign for more sup­port and at­ten­tion. While the top sides, es­pe­cially tonight’s op­po­nents, are now fully pro­fes­sional, Ire­land’s play­ers are still fit­ting in real lives as stu­dents, so­lic­i­tors and sports coaches around their cricket.

IRE­LAND’S FIX­TURES

Tonight: v Aus­tralia (8.0), Wed­nes­day: v Pak­istan (8.0), Thurs­day: v In­dia (3.0), Satur­day: v New Zealand (8.0). Squad: Laura De­lany (cap­tain, Le­in­ster), Kim Garth, Shauna Ka­vanagh, Clare Shilling­ton (Pem­broke), Ce­celia Joyce, Isobel Joyce, Celeste Raack (Mer­rion), Amy Ke­nealy, Re­becca Stokell (Le­in­ster), Gaby Lewis, Lucy O’Reilly (YMCA), Lara Maritz (Clon­tarf), Mary Wal­dron (Malahide), Ciara Met­calfe (Northamp­ton­shire), Eimear Richard­son (John­sonville, NZ).

Ire­land cap­tain Laura De­lany is op­ti­mistic

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