Ireland vs India: Gareth Delany embraces key role to balance new seam-heavy attack

Munster all-rounder elevated to second spinner after Simi Singh was dropped from the squad

“In that game I froze under the pressure.”

Gareth Delany has come a long way since Ireland were dumped out of the T20 World Cup by Namibia last year.

Fast forward eight months and the Munster all-rounder could well be Ireland’s most important player in the shortest format of the game as the group stares into a T20 series against India, starting on Sunday evening.

With the bat, he has been promoted to number three in a bid to solve a middle-overs boundary deficit that plagued Ireland in that Namibia defeat. With the ball, he is all of a sudden the side’s second spinner now that Simi Singh has been dropped.

It has been a rewarding few months for Delany. Dominating Namibia A with both bat and ball in the spring has firmly put that World Cup disappointment behind him, his knock of nine off 18 balls part of a team-wide collapse that put them out of the tournament.

“I went away from my natural game of trying to take the bowler on,” said Delany on the eve of the India games. “I remember looking back at the off-spinner on the video [of the Namibia defeat] and thinking, ‘jeez I could have hit most of them if I wanted to.’

“If I do get into the situation again I’m happy hitting my way out of it rather than clogging up the innings again like I did that day.”

Batting at three clearly suits him. After a few confidence-boosting knocks with Ireland at February’s World Cup qualifiers, he has scored 124 runs in the position for Munster this season at a strike rate of 182. After being moved up and down the lineup in his young international career, Delany finally looks to have a settled role at first drop.

“When I initially came in [to the Ireland squad] it was put to me that I would be the leg-spinner, the second spin option and batting in the lower order. That sounded crazy to me, I didn’t think I’d last too long in international cricket.

“I have a little more time and value my wicket more than I did when opening,” he explained. “Then I was trying to hit every ball where at three I probably will try to get to the 16th over and then by that stage back myself to clear the ropes.”

Alongside Harry Tector who will bat at four, Delany has given Ireland a more assured batting line-up, one that is less reliant on Andrew Balbirnie and Paul Stirling at the top of the order. The solidity has empowered this young middle order to keep hitting boundaries and avoid falling into the trap of becoming overly defensive if early wickets fall.

A view of Malahide Cricket Club at dusk.

“We all know the stat that if you lose three [wickets] in the first six [overs], 80 per cent of the time you lose,” explains Delany. “But I think we’ve had those discussions where we’re still trying to be braver, if we do lose wickets not to shut up shop and keep playing our natural aggressive game.”

What about the ball, though? Delany’s comments on his batting suggests that is still his main role - “primarily the focus is with the bat.” Yet it cannot be avoided that successful white-ball sides rarely win with only one front-line spinner. He may not be bowling in the powerplay or at the death like Singh, but for all of the talk of Ireland reverting to a seam-dominant attack, Delany will have to still see an increased workload.

“Speaking to the coaches there I think there’s a role for me bowling a few overs during the middle or whatever the captain sees fit, so I have to be ready for that. I haven’t had that conversation [about bowling away from the middle overs], I’m not sure if that’s the role they see for me at the moment.

What does the skipper see as his role with the ball then?

“Gareth is certainly an option,” confirmed Andrew Balbirnie. “He’s bowled more in recent interpro games and got more confidence under his belt. Andy McBrine is the only frontline off-spinner, so he’ll be our main spinner and then predominantly seam.

“Predominantly seam.” It is clear that the nature of Ireland’s bowling attack has changed significantly, with one of Conor Olphert and Barry McCarthy - likely the former given his extra pace - coming into the fold at Singh’s expense.

It is a change that was suggested by new head coach Heinrich Malan with one eye on conditions at the World Cup in Australia next October. The South African is certainly leaving his imprint on the side.

“Heinrich has come in and said in T20 cricket you probably only need one off-spinner,” confirmed Balbirnie. “That’s something that we’ve taken on board and certainly going to Australia, having played in Hobart where it didn’t take much spin whatsoever, that’s something we have to look at.

“We have to create a couple of points of difference with pace. We obviously don’t have that many options in the leg-spin or left arm spin department in terms of front-line spinners.”

Not music to the ears of Graham Kennedy, Mike Frost, Gavin Hoey or Ben White.

Regardless, Ireland have a new bowling identity. With 10 games of T20 between now and the World Cup, don’t expect to see that change all too much before October.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist