Ireland: Testing The Waters

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Today we have a guest article by Kevin Galvin, an Irish writer with the Evening Echo and Irish Examiner. He talks about Ireland’s development as a team and their pursuit of test status. It must be incredibly frustrating to be an Ireland supporter right now. Had India got behind the idea of two divisions in test cricket, then Ireland would have been included in the second division. Instead the Irish are banging their heads against a wall all over again. I guess India think protecting the game in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh is more important than promoting it in Ireland and countries like Afghanistan. Anyway, I’m sure Kevin can shed more light on the situation in Ireland than myself (even if this article was originally drafted a couple of years ago). Over to you Kevin ….

As John Mooney saw Michael Rippon smash a hook shot off his short pitched delivery for six, securing a most unlikely draw for the Netherlands against his native Ireland, he’d have been feeling a bittersweet emotion which is all too familiar in Irish cricket. That feeling of disappointment despite success has lingered in the Irish camp for the past number of years. Despite being leaps and bounds ahead of their fellow associate nations (that draw saw Ireland crowned as World Cricket League champions with two of the fourteen games left of the tournament), having beaten a number of test nations (and tied with Pakistan earlier this year), and having developed a brand new cricket facility in Malahide, Ireland have still been denied test status notwithstanding several applications.

Without a test status, Irish players must move to England and play for the Three Lions if they are to complete every cricketer’s ultimate ambition. In one bizarre incident a few years ago, batsman Ed Joyce played against his own brother for England against Ireland in an attempt to get into their test side. Current England players Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin are the latest Irish recruits to an English team which is benefitting from the ICC’s stubbornness.

Since that famous St. Patrick’s Day of 2007 in which Ireland beat Pakistan to qualify for the Super 8 stage of the Cricket World Cup, Ireland have beaten Bangladesh twice, Zimbabwe, and England, in a famous run chase which saw Kevin O’ Brien smash the record of the fastest One Day International century, as well as the Pakistan result. The side have won three Intercontinental Cups (The precursor to their latest title), the ICC Six Nations Challenge, two ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers, two European Championships and have qualified for four World Cups in a row (Three 50 over and their second Twenty20), and currently lie 8th in the Twenty20 rankings (Ahead of test nations Bangladesh and Zimbabwe).With eight Irish players currently playing in the English County system, one in the ICC Top 10 ODI batsmen, two in the Top 10 ODI All-Rounder ranking and their u19 side heading to the World Cup in Australia there’s no doubting Ireland’s cricketing talent.

The country already has two ICC approved International grounds, and now with the Malahide complex being updated, they have a third, bringing them only one behind test country Zimbabwe. The Irish have been pro-active about securing their test status in other ways, introducing central contracts and a four-day inter-provincial tournament which mirrors the current cricketing system in England, one of the ICC’s strongest test nations.

Despite all of these changes, as part of Ireland’s plan to become a test nation by the year 2020, there is still much uncertainty. Having, in most people’s eyes, prematurely promoted Bangladesh to the highest level in 2000, the ICC are now wary of doing the same with another country, and in one of the great failings of the sport, there is no clear pathway to reach the highest status. Instead Ireland are trying to develop what they can and hope that, when the time comes, they can be considered by one of the most politically charged governing bodies in sport.

This leaves the current Irish team a problem with a shortfall in fixtures. While test teams play each other in series, and the other main associate nations play in County competitions, much the same as the Irish did years ago, Ireland are left without teams to play. Now, like it was over 40 years ago when Ireland used benefit from touring sides against England (Once famously bowling the West Indies out for 25 in 1969), the Irish are left with the International teams who have a gap in their schedule. This lack of time in the middle is hurting Irish players, who need international experience in order to develop.

Bearing these problems in mind, and the haemorrhaging of their best players to England, it’s easy to understand why Ireland’s recent World Cricket League victory felt like a hollow one; their affirmed dominance of fellow associate nations teasing the fact that test cricket remains elusive. Ireland’s push for that status in 2020 is seen as ambitious by some, but with the right steps already being employed and the Irish appetite for giant killings, there’s no reason why the biggest underdog in world cricket cannot reach their goal.

Kevin Galvin

4 Comments

  1. According to Tim Wigmore on Twitter recently, the ICC will announce soon that Ireland and Afghanistan will play Test matches in 2019 (although they will not be granted FM status which makes no sense).

    My concern for Ireland is that this is coming too late. Srini-Giles-Wally denied them fixtures when they had a strong side but now they are going to get games when that generation of players is on the way out. I’ve heard Ireland haven’t been doing well in age group competitions (like U19) so may not have strong replacements coming up. I don’t follow it closely enough to know if that’s true. The occasional Test match doesn’t of course address the question of long-term sustainable fixtures.

    One thing I’ve started to notice is that less profitable teams are getting shunted to the margins of the fixture list. NZ have played Tests in SA and India in September – these countries have never hosted Tests in that month before and essentially it’s like playing Tests in England in March. Predictably, there have been some poor pitches as a result.

    Disgraceful decision about Durham, by the way (and I’m a Hampshire fan).

    • I am conflicted about the Durham decision. It seems harsh but, on the other hand, a £3m bailout seems to require some sanction. However, the question that seems unasked and unanswered is ‘ what is the difference between an ECB bailout and loans of similar (and in some cases bigger) proportions from the likes of local authorities’? No doubt some will claim the difference is in the events leading up to the loans (development versus running costs) but this seems a false argument given that the source of the Durham problems was development pushed by the ECB.

  2. The problem is simple; the utter corruption of the ICC by the Indian Mafiosi and the simpering acceptance of this behaviour by other test nations. It is the scandal that led to the elevation of a wholly inadequate Bangladesh in order to appease regional power plays and was followed by the entirely unjustified return to test status after suspension of Zimbabwe. The apologists will point to the introduction of the test challenge between the winner of the Intercontinental Cup and the worst test nation as a positive step. But that only offers the hope of ‘consideration’ for test status if the non-test team wins – whilst still guaranteeing the test status of Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, regardless of their being of equivalent strength to a strong club side.

    It is obvious that Ireland, and probably Afghanistan (I only qualify due to the recency of their record) are as strong as Bangladesh and stronger than Zimbabwe. At the very least the new challenge should be extended to include the top 2 non-test nations and the lowest ranking 2 test sides, with the winners and runners up given test status and the other two returned to associate status. Only by having a proper path can the credibility of the ICC be achieved. But the chances of this happening are on a par with an IPL franchise being awarded without sweetheart deals or bribes (or the Pope resigning to marry a Kardashian).

    Sometimes I despair of cricket. We seem to have gone from a system of the game being run by useless old buffers to one where the top tier are frighteningly competent – at securing their own narrow interests at the expense of the sport they administer.

  3. I would give Ireland and Afghanistan Test status as they are the only teams who could have a Test team. All the others such as the Netherlands are more suited to the limited overs game. Kenya were talked about for Test status but their cricket imploded. I read an article talking about Nepal as a test team as it suits their culture.

    I’m not sure about what this would mean for the Test schedule or if Ireland would be full members of the ICC as I do not understand the cricket schedule now of what the main tournaments are. In the olden days England had iconic test series against Australia, West Indies, India etc with a World Cup (50 overs), and a County Championship with big one day trophies such as the Benson and Hedges Cup. Now it’s chaos.

    Also if Ireland did play Test cricket they could russle up a few English players with Irish connections.

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