After Ireland qualified for Group 1 of the Super 12s there was some excitement among England’s players about the prospect of coming up against them. “Any time Ireland plays England at any sport they want to beat England, so that’ll be a big game,” said Mark Wood. Chris Woakes said it was “a huge game for both teams”.
But when the Ireland bowler Mark Adair is asked to describe his level of anticipation for Wednesday’s game he appears less enthusiastic than he is puzzled.
“What do you mean?” he says. I stammer something about history and rivalry and tradition but Adair is having none of it. “Any time you play one of the top teams it’s a big occasion but I’m not sure you can say playing England would be any bigger than playing against Pakistan or India.”
Over the past 12 months Ireland played T20s against half of the sides who qualified directly into the Super 12s – India, New Zealand, Afghanistan and South Africa. These games are not novelties for them any more.
“I think we’re ready,” Adair says. “We’re trying to make those steps so that these wins, and World Cups, are no longer shocks; they’re no longer upsets. They’re just a good cricket team putting in a good performance.”
For all that, having lost their opening game of the T20 World Cup to Zimbabwe there was little expectation they would end the opening group stage by beating West Indies, the result they needed to qualify for this round – particularly having lost their final match of last year’s opening group, again with qualification on the line, to Namibia. This time, however, they won emphatically.
“You never learn any lessons from winning,” Adair says. “You always learn your lessons from losing and the Namibia game was something that we looked at as a group. But our last four games against the West Indies, we’ve won three of them. That’s across the formats.
“We’ve played against some good opposition this year and results haven’t gone our way, so we know that as a team we have strong performances in us. It was just nice to be on the right end of the result this time.”
The aim is to get a few more. While England opened the Super 12s with a five-wicket win over Afghanistan Ireland started on Sunday with a nine-wicket defeat by their fellow qualifiers, Sri Lanka. They are the longest of long shots to reach the semi-finals but capable of pulling off a shock or two before the tournament is out. Again, though, Adair is approaching it a little differently.
“The more time we spend focusing on our performance and the less time we focus on the results, the results will look after themselves,” he says. “We set out for the first qualifying stage with the intent to qualify and we have done. Now we want to see where we can go.”
This will be Adair’s fourth game against England. After coming through the academy at Warwickshire he was released in 2017 after a couple of injury-blighted seasons as a professional. Then 21, he continued to rise through the game in Ireland and made his international debut against England in May 2019, and was involved in Ireland’s brilliant ODI win at the Ageas Bowl in 2020.
In between he played in the 2019 Test at Lord’s, where England were bowled out for 85 in their first innings before recovering to win. Adair took three wickets on that first day, including Joe Root’s.
“If you look through that England lineup I’m not sure there are any names on that list you wouldn’t want, and you’re certainly not giving any of them back,” he says. “He was the skipper at the time and one of the best batters in the world, potentially England’s best ever, so that’s a great personal achievement, but I don’t think it’s really anything to get caught up on. You’re not so much trying to get individual guys out for yourself – you’ll not be staying in cricket for too long if that’s the way you look at things.”
Surely there must be moments, even in team sports, when an individual allows themselves to enjoy their achievements? “Absolutely, but the best way to do that is with your teammates and in a team environment,” Adair says. “Other people celebrating your achievements is a lot more special than you celebrating your own.”
And so to Wednesday, just another game for a team on the up, and the dream of more collective celebrations.
“There’s nothing better than celebrating a win with your teammates,” Adair says. “You almost start to crave those moments again, and that’s why you continue to play. That’s why you continue trying to perform. When I’m a bit older and I’m chatting with my kids about it in years to come I think, hopefully, they’ll find it pretty impressive.”