T20I series preview: West Indies v Ireland
Associate nation protagonists, Ireland, will provide the West Indies the first opposition of a busy schedule, for a two-game series in Jamaica, as they look to build up a head of steam before the World Twenty20.
Since toppling Sri Lanka in the 2012 World Twenty20 final at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, the West Indies have played just nine games in the shortest format of the international game.
Labelled as T20I specialists, captain Darren Sammy's side have lost their last four as they struggled to contend with a lack of form and a plethora of injuries. With just 25 days until their title defence commences in Bangladesh, they kickstart preparations with six games in the next month.
Associate nation protagonists, Ireland, provide the first opposition of a busy schedule, for a two-game series in Jamaica, as they look to build up a head of steam before their campaign opener against India on 23 March.
The hosts, who are currently fifth in the ICC rankings despite being world champions, will be without the imposing Kieron Pollard as the all-rounder continues his recovery from a knee injury. It is hoped he will be back for the impending <a href='http://www.paddypower.com/bet/cricket/one-day-internationals/West-Indies-v-England-6548912.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>series against England, which will bring solid betting odds for a West Indies win</b>.</a>
The injuries that plagued the West Indies' tour of New Zealand are waning, however, with Sammy and batsman Marlon Samuels both fit despite missing the limited-overs leg of the series against the Black Caps.
Coach Ottis Gibson's team were comprehensively beaten in Auckland and Wellington in January, and despite being forced to field a makeshift XI, several players have paid for their poor performances. Fast bowler Tino Best, batsman Johnson Charles, spinner Nikita Miller, opener Kieran Powell and wicketkeeper-batsman Chadwick Walton are omitted, with all-rounder Dwayne Smith handed a recall from the wilderness.
The West Indies' last Twenty20 victory came nearly a year ago, when they overcame Zimbabwe. Success in T20 cricket originates from a regular and reliable method of which all players are accustomed and confident in – and the hosts will look to restore that formula in the next few games.
Ireland, meanwhile, arrive in Jamaica off the back of a mixed few weeks. They were slow off the mark in the Caribbean's premier domestic 50-over competition – and lost their first two games but restored confidence with a victory over the Windward Islands in the final group fixture.
Coach Phil Simmons has a full-strength squad at his disposal with the exception of John Mooney, who left the Caribbean with a stress-related illness. Opening batsman Paul Stirling picked up a back injury in Trinidad and question marks remain over his fitness, while former England international Ed Joyce joins up with the panel after sitting out the first leg of their tour.
After securing an unprecedented Associate nation treble in 2013, Ireland are determined to kick on this year against Full Member opposition and will fancy their chances of causing an upset at Sabina Park, the scene of their famous victory over Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup.
Unlike their opponents, the Irish have an exceptional record in the shortest format in the past few months. They negotiated November's World Cup qualifiers with ease, overcoming Afghanistan in the final, but know the size of the task ahead.
"We played some very good Twenty20 Cricket in the qualifiers for the World Cup in November, so we've got to take from those positives and keep improving, and taking the things that we did well in those games, into games against the top eight sides, or top ten sides, the Test Teams as such," said captain William Porterfield.
"If we put everything in on the pitch, and at the end of the day they come out on top, then that's fair enough. But if we are at the top of our game, and playing the way we want to play, then that's all we can ask for from the lads."
<b>Key Men</b><br>After an explosive start to his international career, all-rounder <b>Andre Russell</b> has yet to make the impact many predicted he would. He struggled in New Zealand but has found form during the Super50, during which he took three for 19 against Ireland – and his pace and bounce should cause the tourists more problems. England, too, are likely to be troubled by Russell's ability to up the <a href='http://www.paddypower.com/bet/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>up the stakes in the series leading wicket-taker ranks.</b></a>
The absence of <b>Paul Stirling</b> at the top of the order was really felt in Trinidad as Ireland began lethargically and the Middlesex opener will be hellbent on making his presence felt at Sabina Park. If the right-hander fires than the tourists are in with a chance.
<b>Only Two Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2012: World T20: No-result in Colombo<br>2010: World T20: West Indies won by 70 runs in Guyana
<b>Prediction</b><br>Although the West Indies are short of match practice and have several players returning from injury lay-offs, it's difficult to see past two home victories, given Ireland have struggled to accustom themselves with Caribbean conditions. Having stated that, they have fond memories of Sabina Park and unlike the hosts, have competitive game time in the bank.
<b>Squads</b><br><i>West Indies:</i> Darren Sammy (captain), Samuel Badree, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Krishmar Santokie, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith.
<i>Ireland:</i> William Porterfield (captain), Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Tim Murtagh, Andrew McBrine, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien, Andrew Poynter, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young, James Shannon.
<b>Fixtures</b><br>First T20I: Sabina Park, Jamaica, 19 February<br>Second T20I: Sabina Park, Jamaica, 21 February
<b>Ryan Bailey</b> | <i>@RyanBailey37</i>
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