Ireland head to Sri Lanka for the ICC World Twenty20 2012 knowing only too well what lies ahead if they put up a good show on the grand stage. Impress here, and they could go a long way towards helping the team gain regular international matches.
Ireland has made a habit of upsetting the biggies. The trend started at the 2007 World Cup, where they stormed into the Super Eights after beating Pakistan by three wickets. Though they failed to progress to the semifinals, a huge 74-run win against Bangladesh ensured that theyÂ ended the tournament on a high.
They progressed to the second stage of the World T20 2009 after beating Bangladesh - their first Twenty20 International against one of the Test playing countries.
The following year, they were unfortunate to be eliminated by England, the eventual winners. Having restricted England to 120 for eight, Ireland watched with great chagrin as the match was then washed out. However, they gained revenge of sorts at the 2011 World Cup. In one of the most memorable matches of the tournament, Ireland chased down England's 327 through Kevin O'Brien's sensational century to secure a three-wicket win. It was the biggest successful chase in World Cup history.
Having improved extensively, Ireland naturally feel the need for better competition against teams of higher stature. Beating Afghanistan by five wickets in the World Twenty20 2012 qualifier secured their place in the tournament proper and has given them the chance to do so, but now comes the real test. Ireland will have to navigate through a group that has Australia and West Indies.
Getting through this group will be a remarkable achievement for Ireland, who have won eight of 11 T20I matches played so far this year, spread over three series. However, all those eight wins came against Associate nations - Kenya, Scotland, Canada, the Netherlands and Afghanistan. In July though, Ireland lost all three matches in a home series to Bangladesh.
Their preparation for the World T20 hasn't been ideal either. Warm-up plans for the tournament were jeopardised when South Africa A pulled out of its tour of Ireland, citing poor weather conditions. That has left Ireland woefully short of match experience and compounded problems. John Mooney, a valuable all-rounder remembered for scoring the winning runs against England at the 2011 World Cup, was ruled out of the World T20 with a fractured finger a day before the squad was to be announced.
Happily though, Mooney's absence remains the only concern. Stuart Thompson, the 21-year-old all-rounder, has been called up as replacement and will take his place alongside what is an experienced contingent. Apart from Thompson, Tim Murtagh and Max Sorensen, the rest of the team has played in previous ICC tournaments. William Porterfield leads a side that includes Ed Joyce, Kevin and Niall O'Brien, and Nigel Jones.
Ireland will begin its campaign against Australia at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, knowing that a win could guarantee progress to the next round. That progress is key to their quest for better cricket.