How Ireland became a competitive side under coach Heinrich Malan?

For a player who has just retired from a sport and taken up the role of a coach just days after retiring becomes hard to settle into his role as a coach. Yes, we are talking about none other than Heinrich Malan. The 41-year-old South African played domestic cricket for New Zealand and retired at the beginning of 2022, just days before taking over the role of Ireland Cricket team’s head coach.

Malan has quickly settled into his role, and when he took over, he noticed that although Ireland is making steady progress in the limited overs format, they needed to be more competitive in the T20 format. Ireland was knocked out in the qualification rounds in the last three-four editions. The Irish side is making slow progress in the limited-overs format, and their 3-2 win against Afghanistan in the 50 overs series in August is somewhat satisfactory.

During the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, after knocking West Indies out and qualifying for the Super 12, Malan appreciated the people of Ireland for their support. India toured Ireland in June, and in one of the T20Is, Ireland almost pulled up a surprise as they lost by just 4 runs, chasing a total of 226. The following T20I tours against New Zealand and South Africa were disappointing as Ireland lost both series, but again the team showed the resolve to fight till the end.

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Malan noticed that the team had to go through a packed T20 calendar, and he started to work on a process of how a system needs to be administered. Malan stressed the importance of competing more aggressively and intensely, the ability to adjust to the playing conditions, and, most notably, bringing more consistency in their approach. Every player needs to identify and be more precise with their role.

Malan expressed satisfaction with how the team played against India, but the results against New Zealand and South Africa were disappointing. The 41-year-old stated that playing against the big guns was a learning experience for his side. Playing against the big sides helped them in the 2022 T20 World Cup. Although the Irish began their campaign on a losing note against Zimbabwe, the team didn’t lose hope. It made a strong comeback, eventually producing decent performances and beating the two-time T20 Champions West Indies in their qualifying game. Malan talked with some of his new players and told them they had players in their dugout who had gone through such situations, and the younger players were inspired by them and their style of play.

The players who had the experience of playing in qualifying rounds knew their role. They guided the younger players by working along with Malan, which helped them identify their strengths and work on becoming technically and tactically competitive as per the playing conditions and the nature of the wickets.

In a game against Scotland, Ireland was in trouble while chasing 177 as they were 61/4 at one stage. George Dockrell and Curtis Campher batted cleverly and targeted the shorter boundaries. Both players batted calmly and took the Irish home with one over left. Dockrell goes for the powerful shots, while Campher’s batting is about placement and timing. Against England in one of the group games, the Irish pulled up another surprise beating the three lions. Although Ireland couldn’t put up a big total in that game, their batters’ approach was to attack.

Malan thinks the win over England was a surprise, but his team competes well with the big guns and can upset any big team. Ireland batters batted with resolve with T20 bowlers like Sam Curran and Chris Woakes in the English dugout. Irish pacers, too, bowled with a lot of aggression and penetration, with Barry McCarthy, Joshua Little, and the rest of the bowlers bowling with accuracy. However, some of their bowlers had to sit out due to injuries.

Malan also insisted his bowlers keep bringing variations per the needs of T20 cricket and a bowler who could lead the attack and give valuable inputs on how to bowl in challenging swinging and seaming conditions. Malan pointed out that they missed Craig Young a lot due to injury, but they wanted more options in their squad as he stressed the importance of having three different teams for three different formats just the way big established teams have.

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The 41-year-old also stressed the importance of balancing the workload due to a packed calendar year, and the team needs to be sharper in their fielding. Malan also stated that fielding is one area that needs a lot of concentration. Every player is important and needs to be fresh for the format he plays. Malan is satisfied with the way the team is progressing at the moment and the way the team has played for the last year or so. The South African is working hard, and at the moment, it looks Ireland’s cricket is in safe hands. The team is witnessing the emergence of talented youngsters who have faith in their abilities, and Malan is backing them to come good.

The team needs polishing, and Malan is currently administering the progress well. The team has a promising future if they play to their capabilities and all players get enough game time. Playing more Test matches with Test-playing nations would provide the younger players with more learning experience and help improve domestic cricket in Ireland, which will surely upgrade their quality. This will also ensure Ireland has enough options for having a core group of players for all formats, including Tests.

The players show confidence in Malan’s man-management skills and how he guides them. The support staff is also working closely with players and Heinrich Malan to identify the gaps and monitor players’ preparation depending on the opposition’s strength. With the way the team is progressing now, it won’t be a surprise if this Irish side reaches the semifinal of the 2024 T20 World Cup or the limited overs world cup in the future.

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