Phil Simmons isn’t under-estimating the size of the task that awaits his Ireland team in Sharjah this week as they prepare to face the United Arab Emirates in two crucial World Cup qualifying games.
“The UAE have already beaten Scotland and Afghanistan on home soil, so we will not under-rate them,” the Ireland coach said. “We learn our lessons from Australia who never make that mistake. We know we’ll have to be at our best this week to stay top of the table.”
Ireland currently lead the ICC World Cricket League Championship with 13 points, and two wins would see them open up a six-point gap over their nearest challengers (Scotland and Afghanistan) with four games remaining.
“The UAE have been playing well, so it’s going to be two hard games. In fact I feel these matches will be the hardest in the last six, because of the conditions we face here,” Simmons added.
“That’s no disrespect to the Netherlands and Scotland, but the games with them will be on familiar territory for us with a lot of cricket under our belts. We have to come out of the blocks very sharp on Monday and that’s what we will be looking to do – seize the initiative.”
Simmons was pleased that the drawn four-day game last week allowed his squad to get match practice after more than five months without competitive cricket.
“The guys were happy to be put in to bat so they got two innings and the bowlers got a tough work-out,” he said. “We know what to expect this week because the pitch is not going to be much different.”
Kevin O’Brien is well aware of just how much is at stake in the coming week. He said: “There’s no doubt that these are the biggest two games of the trip. The guys all spent time in the middle during the four-dayer and we’re going into the games with confidence and we are certainly looking forward to them.
It could well be a very different UAE side that O’Brien and his Irish colleagues are facing, with the Emiratis drafting a number of one-day specialists into their ranks.
“They’ll be bringing in four or five who we haven’t played against before so that’s a bit of an unknown quantity for us, O’Brien said. “All we can do is watch the videos and come up with some plans and tactics to combat their strengths.”
O’Brien is expecting another tough examination for the bowlers in the forthcoming matches. “It looks as if it could be the same pitch. The four-day pitch didn’t do too much and so it’ll probably be more of the same in the one-dayers. We will assess it on the morning of the game and hopefully from our point of view it’s the same wicket.”
The record holder for the fastest century in World Cup history – 50 balls v England in 2011 – is one of three Irish players who took part in the recent Bangladesh Premier League (along with his brother Niall and Paul Stirling), and says it taught him a lot.
“The tournament was a great learning curve for me personally,” O’Brien said. “It’s helped my game, especially my bowling and I will look to bring that into my play here. Hopefully I’ll put in some performances in the next week, which will help Ireland make the World Cup finals again in 2015.”
Ireland have no injury concerns following a morning training session in Sharjah, where temperatures reached a sweltering 37C.
Ireland squad: William Porterfield (c), Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Trent Johnston, Ed Joyce, John Mooney, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, NIall O’Brien, James Shannon, Paul Stirling, Max Sorensen, Andrew White, Gary Wilson.
Ireland v UAE, WCLC, Monday March 18 and Wednesday March 20 (10am local – 6am UK/Ireland)