Graham Ford, the Ireland head coach, is in Bangladesh with the Ireland Wolves side after Pete Johnson declined to travel to the country. The former Natal player opens up about his coaching experience with the Ireland team, the challenges to the team’s progress due to the pandemic, their Test ambitions and more in an interview with Cricbuzz.
You’ve coached in different parts of the world. How different has your experience been with Ireland?
Ireland is a small cricketing nation and the players certainly don’t have the development opportunities that talented players have in the bigger cricketing countries. However, Irish cricket has always been about team togetherness, character and a fearless approach. Over the years, it has been these qualities that have helped them to achieve some special results.
How much improvement have you seen in the Ireland team since taking over as the head coach?
Unfortunately, this Covid period has been particularly disruptive to the team’s progress. Prior to the pandemic, we had started to build towards the future and had involved some exciting younger lads to play around with some of the wiser, older heads. Had the international schedule been played as planned, some of these young lads would have grown considerably as cricketers. Disappointingly, we have had very little game time and at stages, training has not been permitted. When we have trained, we have been limited to one on one sessions. Considering these issues, I have been pleased to see that against England, West Indies and Afghanistan, some of these lads showed early signs of being able to perform at the top level.
How difficult is it with these long gaps between Tests to develop a team?
If we are to improve our Test cricket, we need to play more Test matches and more first-class cricket. Unfortunately, as a small cricketing nation, we don’t have the finances to significantly increase the amount we play in the red ball format.
No Irish first-class cricket will be played for a second consecutive season as Cricket Ireland announced a revamped inter-provincial structure for 2021. Do you feel at the moment you are putting all your focus on white ball cricket?
We would love to focus more on first-class and Test cricket. When the players do get the chance to do so, they really enjoy it. They are very envious of other countries that are able to play more Test and first class cricket, but without sufficient finances, it is simply not possible.
How would you describe the captaincy of Andrew Balbirnie?
Andrew settled into the role immediately and has shown that he is a natural leader with an honest, caring approach. He shows great attention to detail, utilises knowledge within the group and sets good examples. He seems to have that special ability to promote belief amongst his players. Unfortunately, the Covid situation has not really allowed for him to build up momentum from good performances because of the long periods of no cricket.
George Dockrell has been bowling quite well for you but don’t you think you need a genuine leg spinner to add more variety in your bowling unit?
George has been a valuable contributor for Ireland for a long time, having started his international career in 2010. For a 28 year old, he has vast experience. He is well aware of how important the spin bowling department is to our future challenges. He is determined to improve and desperate to make more of an impact with the ball. It is also important that we work hard with the young spin bowlers in our system. Currently, we have three leg spinners on the Wolves tour in Bangladesh. They show exciting promise, and hopefully, they will soon increase our spin options at National level.
Your white-ball tour to Zimbabwe was postponed. How much of a setback was that?
For the team, the cancellation of any cricket is extremely disappointing. We have a group of lads desperate to improve. Not playing matches certainly handicaps their progress.
Ireland are expected to play South Africa. What will be the major challenge in that series?
Hopefully, life will be back to normal by then, which will allow for us to get some thorough preparation done before that series. South Africa have some very good and highly skilled players who won’t mind our conditions. It will be an exciting challenge for us and will require some smart strategizing.