India-Ireland matches must be taken for what they are: An occasion for India’s batsmen and bowlers to run into form and get into the groove for tougher tests ahead.
In the not too distant past, national visiting teams enjoyed the luxury of engaging in a number of practice matches against local teams and these helped get a hang of the weather, pitch and other conditions. Often, manipulative host nations would deliberately provide weak opposition or a completely different type of pitch for these matches to try and keep the visiting team off balance. Nevertheless these matches, even if not really competitive and challenging, were still a good build up for teamwork, team spirit and confidence.
These matches also provided an opportunity for visiting teams to keep non-regular players match-sharp.
But of late, international cricket is one big rush of Tests, ODIs or T20Is, with little or no practice matches slotted in the schedule. Of course wealthier and better organised teams have an ‘A’ team touring in advance or shadowing the main team. However this is not a common practice.
It is in this context that the two T20Is against Ireland must be seen. They provide an excellent opportunity for India’s main cricketers to competitively engage an enthusiastic opponent and at the same time spend quality time honing their skills in match conditions.
It helps that Ireland can boast of having caused the odd upset in international cricket, even if there is no denying they were punching far above their weight.
In fact it would be easy to be disparaging of Irish skills on the evidence of the first T20I played on Wednesday. For long periods, the contest looked a mismatch between a set of hardened professional cricketers and a motley bunch of bakers, butchers, plumbers and carpenters masquerading as an international cricket team! Such was the contrast between the teams.
To make matters worse, the weather too was bright and sunny. This worked to the advantage of the Indian cricketers who had just arrived from the searing summer heat of the sub-continent.
However, neither the quality of the opposition nor the benign weather conditions could take away from the fact that India stayed focused on its primary aims: to register the confidence-boosting win and give the main stars a good feel of local conditions.
Opener Rohit Sharma, who has had a pretty indifferent run over the past few months, seized the opportunity to make his statement. He came up with an aggressive 97 off just 61 balls to lay a strong claim to be in the mix for tougher matches on this tour.
The team had shown immense faith in Rohit, believing that his undoubted talent would win it a few matches. May be this was yet another break being provided and Rohit showed his appreciation by carving up the Irish bowlers.
His partner Shikhar Dhawan, who earlier in the month had scored a century before lunch in the Test against Afghanistan, took the military medium pace bowling of the Irish by the scruff of the neck to hammer a belligerent 74 off just 45 deliveries.
These knocks by the Indian openers and their 160-run partnership off just 16 overs was an ominous start to the long and arduous two-nation tour which includes five T20Is, three ODIs and five Tests.
Two of those T20Is scheduled at the start of the tour, in Ireland, should be just the sort of ‘warm-up’ that any visiting team would welcome before taking on the formidable England team in their backyard.
Additionally, much like Rohit and Dhawan proved to themselves and all concerned that they could get runs in foreign conditions, the match was also important for India’s spinners.
The continued exposure to bowling with a Kookaburra white ball (all international white-ball cricket is played with this brand, unlike red-ball cricket where different balls are used in different countries) made their task easier. But Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal still had to get into a good rhythm to terrorise batsmen under-exposed to high quality wrist spin.
Of course there would be days when weather conditions would be such that it would be extremely cold for spinners to comfortably grip the ball. It could even involve bowling with a wet ball. However wrist spinners will not be hindered as badly as finger spinners. It was, therefore, important for India’s two match-winning wrist spinners to get into the groove as quickly as possible. This they did handsomely by grabbing seven of the 10 wickets in their full complement of overs.
Consequently, more than the runs scored or wickets taken, the emphasis surely would have been on key players slipping into the groove as swiftly as possible. To that end, the opening match of the tour, the T20I match at Dublin, ticked most boxes.