Is It Time To Give Ireland Test Status?

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With the 4th test between India and Australia still in progress, and the Middlesex versus the MCC game just a day old, we’ve got a little more time to discuss off-field issues. Today we’d like to put Irish cricket under the microscope again. New guest writer Michael Cooper has some thoughts on the rapid rise of the Emerald Isle and asks whether giving Ireland test status would breathe new life into test cricket. 

In May, Ireland will travel to England for a two match series that holds importance for both sides. For their hosts, it is crucial preparation for the ICC Champions Trophy being held in England but for Ireland it’s a sign of the strides made since their first official ODI in 2006. It’s also the first time that they are facing England in England as well as the first time they are playing a bilateral series against their neighbours.

An associate member since 1993, Ireland had to wait a further 13 years before they were awarded ODI status before making their bow against England in Belfast. Ireland were defeated by 38 runs and spent the next decade attempting to fend off English attempts to cherry pick their best players with the offer of test cricket.

Ed Joyce found himself making his England debut in the game against Ireland and “in the ridiculous position of playing against my little brother in the opposing national side.” He was not alone in feeling the need to play for England in order to further their cricketing careers. That only three players made the move to play for England, and the fact Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin have since returned, speaks volumes of the culture and camaraderie that has been created within the Cricket Ireland set up.

The Ireland side first announced itself on the world stage during the 50 over World Cup in 2007 defeating Pakistan by three wickets in the first of many giant killings they’d inflict in World Cups.  Niall O’Brien, Man of the Match in that game thanks to his match winning knock of 72 off 107 balls, wasn’t as surprised as the rest of the cricket world. “No one really knew too much about the Ireland cricket team” said O’Brien. “We had been working incredibly hard for a couple of years to put ourselves in a position to win matches in that World Cup.”

Although they found the Super 8 stage of the competition a step too far, O’Brien believes they had a lot to be proud of. “I thought we played some really good cricket in that tournament, we were obviously a bit short in the Super 8s, which was tough going but I think we acquitted ourselves very well.”

The 2011 World Cup in India saw England turn from lions to lambs for the slaughter as Ireland claimed their second major scalp. Batting second and chasing 328, Ireland slumped to 111-5 before Kevin O’Brien hit a sensational 113 off 63 balls to seal the victory. Joyce, now back in the Ireland fold, remembers the last few hours of the match as “some of the craziest cricket you’ll ever see. Kevin’s knock is definitely one of the top innings I’ve ever seen.”

It speaks volumes of their ambitions as a nation that O’Brien’s abiding memory isn’t the victory against England but rather the defeat to Bangladesh in their opening game. “We let ourselves down in the first game against Bangladesh” remembers O’Brien. “Kevin & I were playing well and if one of us had been there at the end, we hopefully would’ve won another game for the country.”

Now established as a competitive one day team, the most recent World Cup in 2015 saw Ireland put on their best performance. While their wins against the UAE and Zimbabwe were expected, the victory against the West Indies in their first match highlighted their case as a dark horse for the tournament.

Sadly a defeat to Pakistan in the last group game saw them fall short of securing a quarter final spot. “We probably would’ve been better off batting first in that game to be fair.” said O’Brien of the match against Pakistan. “But it was a privilege for me and the boys who have played in all three World Cups and something we’re very proud of.”

In the upcoming bilateral series against England in May, it is another chance to show their abilities in the one day format. And for the first time the games are being held in England, including a game at Lord’s. Richard Holdsworth, Cricket Ireland’s Performance Director since 2011, sees it as “a huge opportunity for us and the sport in Ireland.”

It’s also symbolic of the growth of Irish cricket and their increased standing in the echelons of world cricket.  “I think it’s a great sentiment from the ECB to invite us over” said O’Brien. “And fair play to Cricket Ireland for having the get up and go to get us these fixtures.”

“England are one of the powerhouses in the world game and to get a two match series is a big achievement” said Joyce. “Our hope is that we won’t have to rely on invitations in the future and that playing against the top cricketing nations is simply part of our annual schedule.”

And what are their chances of gaining test status in the near future? Recent developments have seen the ICC propose a nine team test league, with Ireland seen as one of the teams most likely to make the leap into test cricket. Joyce is positive about the prospect. “I believe we’re close to test status. We’re top of the Intercontinental Cup, which is the first step towards test cricket.” It’s an attitude echoed by O’Brien. “We’re not as far off as some people may think. If we’re playing the likes of Sri Lanka or the West Indies, Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, they’d be pretty close contests.”

The recent upgrading of Ireland’s domestic competition to first-class status, hailed by Holdsworth as “perhaps the most significant step forward since I have been in the role” is another big advancement in the process. “The increased exposure and the funding that this will bring should help us improve our facilities and performances so we will be ready for test cricket when it comes along.” said Joyce.

Holdsworth, who has overseen the development of performance centres in both Spain and Dublin, believes these changes are “helping bridge that gap for Ireland-based players, giving them the skills and experience to reach the top of their game and compete against world class players.”

Ireland have come a long way since that first ODI game in 2006. They’ve conquered test playing nations in World Cups, seen the domestic game continue to grow both on and off the field and forged a path towards test cricket.

And don’t put this down to anything as simple as the luck of the Irish, this is a serious and hard-working cricket nation. At a time when test cricket is coming under fire for its lack of relevance, adding a team like Ireland into the mix could prove just the boost the game needs.

Michael Cooper

@m_j_cooper82

17 comments

  • Yes If Ireland are promoted to Test Status with Afghanistan then you can start to see a few competitive matches with the sort of teams that are in the lower half of the ICC rankings and avoid the years of dispiriting defeats that Bangladesh suffered. These wouldn’t be be cash generators so it would be up to the ICC to provide funds to encourage these games.

    On the other hand Ireland cannot be complacent they have dropped to 15th in the T20 Rankings and bottom (12th) of those listed on Cricinfo for the ODI rankings. With their golden generation are in the twilight of their careers it may be prudent to look around to see if their are any talented Cricketers who have the ability to play for Ireland to help bridge that gap as it seems more opportunities are coming at just the wrong time.

  • Great idea, with drops off in cricket participation more widely that seems like a great way to get a whole nation even more engaged with the sport!

  • “Recent developments have seen the ICC propose a nine team test league, with Ireland seen as one of the teams most likely to make the leap into test cricket”.

    Ireland seemed destined for the three-team D2 (with Zimbabwe and Afghanistan) under those proposals with no promotion/relegation to D1. Instead, their performances would be “assessed” what ever that means. Also, Test status was not going to bring FM status despite those two having been synchronous in the past. Those proposals seemed dead with Manohar’s resignation but now that Manohar has bizarrely un-resigned heaven knows what’s going on. If only we had people called journalists to look into it for us….

    I’m extremely suspicious that there is any serious agenda to grow cricket at the ICC. Those who presided over the recent contraction (remember we still have a ten-team WC scheduled for 2019) are still in the driving seat.

    • I know that there seems to be some negative talk about having two divisions of Test cricket but I think it would be a great opportunity for the less developed nations to grow into test cricket rather than see them thrown in at the deep end and struggle.

      But I fear you’re right in regards to the ICC not wanting to grow the game. You only have to look at the decrease in the number of teams at the next World Cup to see where their thoughts lie.

  • If the ICC are serious about growing the game then nations like Ireland and Afghanistan should be encouraged as much as possible. It will be really interesting to see what kind of attendances we get in the ODIs against Ireland this summer. I’d like to think there will be more interest in this mini series than games against the Windies. There’s a lot more local pride / bragging rights at stake! Similarly I think there would be novelty value if Afghanistan were to play in England at some point in the near future.

    I guess the broader context is that the international calendar worldwide needs more symmetry. I’d also like to know whether Ireland can keep producing good talent. Were the likes of Morgan and Joyce one-offs or will there be a conveyor belt of talent into the future?

  • Give them test status and get touring teams to play them first up as a warm up. Then get them playing series vs the low current teams (sl, wi, bang, pk, zim) as that will be competitive which is what’s needed at test level as it’s stale and very one sided

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  • It’s all very well saying give them test status, but what is the point of a 2 month tour of Ireland where every match result is already known and the biggest opposition is the weather?

    And as for Ireland touring others, do people seriously think this is going to take priority over finding windows for the latest t20 franchise tournament?

    An irish side being hammered on every tour is not going to get the interest in Ireland

    • Totally agree, hence why they play the crap teams like wi, sl, pk, zim and bang and at least it’ll be competitive

      Zero point them playing anyone useful as they’ll get smashed and we have enough predictable one sided tests as it is

  • I just reread this in the light of the current game between Ireland and Afghanistan being played in Uttar Pradesh. As I write, Ireland are in serious trouble (230 odd behind, having been asked to follow on, and with their top 4 back in the pavilion). Obviously, this is a one off game, and things happen, but, if Ireland has a case for test status, I’d suggest Afghanistan do too (Rashid Khan has the potential to become one of the best Associate bowlers ever). I realise they would have to play neutral venues. In some ways, bringing in two new teams at the same time makes sense, in that they don’t have the long solo climb up the ladder that previous teams have (Bangladesh have taken 10 years to become a serious test force).

    • Agreed, I think Afghanistan should certainly be in the mix for Test consideration and I’d love to see Rashid Khan bowling in test matches.

  • Afghanistan have thrashed Ireland by an innings and, perhaps more significantly, their A team has just beaten India U-23s. There seems to be real depth to their cricket (unlike, say, Kenya who had one outstanding generation but nothing behind it).

    Cricket in the Olympics is back on the agenda from comments by Dave Richardson. As they’re only thinking of 6-8 teams, Ireland and Afghanistan would be stuffed yet again.

  • Yes Ireland should be given test status along with Afghanistan as they are the only two teams want and could play test cricket at the moment. I can’t think of any other teams who could play test cricket soon.

  • Following their very comfortable defeat to Afghanistan, I think that Ireland have some way to go before being a credible accession to test cricket. They have had a fine time since 2007 but it seems as though that their “golden age” is coming to an end with a number of players who were so instrumental in their fine performances in 3 world cups coming to the end of the line or have retired. They could do with some fresh blood coming through

  • This little nugget buried in Tim Wigmore’s excellent article on cricket’s global popularity for Cricket Monthly:

    ““At the 2007 cricket World Cup, Ireland received just $56,000 in prize money while Zimbabwe, who they knocked out en route to the Super Eights, received $11 million”.

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