Laura Delany: Zimbabwe series vital build-up to Ireland’s T20 World Cup qualifiers
By BBC News
Captain Laura Delany says Ireland’s upcoming eight-match tour of Zimbabwe will be ideal preparation for the Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers in Abu Dhabi in April and May.
The Irish face the hosts in the first of three ODIs on 18 January in advance of five T20 contests.
“I don’t think a series could have come at a better time,” said the skipper.
Delany is set to extend her Ireland women’s caps record of 191 during the white-ball contests in Harare.
The Dubliner became Ireland‘s caps record holder by making her 185th appearance in a game against the Netherlands in August.
“We’ve a very big year ahead and to have three ODIs and five T20s in an away series, different conditions and different challenges is brilliant,” added the 31-year-old.
Sauna sessions in preparation for tour
In particular, the five T20 games will form crucial preparation for the T20 World Cup qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates where Sri Lanka will go in as the tournament’s top ranked side, with only the two finalists securing spots in Bangladesh in September and October.
“In the qualifiers, every game is like a cup final. If you lose, you either lose points or you are out of the tournament,” added the Dubliner.
“To play with that expectation is a great mindset for us to have heading into this series and to have five T20s after the ODIs makes sure we have plenty of opportunity to go out and put into practice what we are doing in training.”
With conditions in Zimbabwe set to be completely different from the sub-zero temperatures experienced in Ireland this week, the squad have been put through sauna sessions in an attempt to acclimatise to the expected Harare heat.
“We’ve had sauna sessions in which we sit there for 30 minutes which might sound relaxing but it’s definitely not and is to prepare us for how much we are likely to sweat,” added the skipper, who made her Ireland debut in 2010.
The Zimbabwe games will be the Irish side’s first competitive action since beating Scotland 3-2 in a five-match white-ball series in Spain in late October.
With the Ireland players now contracted, the squad continued to train four times a week prior to the Christmas break which concluded when sessions resumed on 2 January.
Delany says the introduction of contracts, which is many cases are full-time, has been a big boost to Ireland women’s cricket.
“Having more players on contracts you can see that the younger players are playing with a huge amount of freedom and have so much ability and talent.
“Someone like Orla Prendergast and Amy Hunter as well, who are two very young players but within our squad are considered senior players and have big roles at the top of the batting order.
“They have done incredibly well over the 12 months and if they get off to a great start, it gives our playing 11 a great opportunity to go out and win that game.
“Georgina Dempsey, who put in a brilliant bowling spell against Australia (last summer), is another player who is getting better and better although she probably goes under the radar a little.”
Delany managing a niggle in recent weeks
While Delany has been managing a niggle in recent weeks, she hopes to be able to take a full part in the series.
If she plays in all eight games, it will bring up her caps haul to 199, with her 200 appearance then set to come in April.
“That would be an amazing moment for myself and my family if it does happen but it’s probably not something I’m focusing on.
“I’ve been struggling a little with a niggle so trying to get back out there on the pitch fit and to be able to contribute both on and off the pitch in terms of my skills but also with my leadership is definitely where my focus is at.”
The Ireland women had a busy 2023 which included earning a shock win over Australia in a warm-up game prior to the World Cup in South Africa where they produced creditable displays despite losing all their games to Pakistan, India, England and West Indies.
A Caribbean tour in late June and early July saw the Irish lose 2-0 to West Indies in ODIs before a 3-0 T20 series defeat after the tourists suffered an agonising final-ball two-wicket defeat in the opener.
The Aussies proved too strong for Ireland as they earned a dominant 2-0 ODI series win at Clontarf in late July, but the Irish women bounced back by beating the Netherlands 2-0 and 3-0 in respective ODI and T20 series in Amstelveen prior to the white-ball series win over Scotland in Spain.