It’s time cricket went Blarney
It’s time the Blarney Army had a bit more to cheer about. The recent Woolf Review, called for by the International Cricket Council (ICC), recommended greater participation by associate members in ICC dealings and the running of the game.
Ireland and the Netherlands’ successes and constant improvement at World Cups have further demonstrated their new position within the international game. So why isn’t the Test cricketing pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in sight just yet?
The next step is for full-membership, if not Test status, for one or both of these nations.
Ireland has beaten Test heavyweights Pakistan and England in their last two World Cups and has had a better ICC one-day rating than full-member side, Zimbabwe, in recent times.
With a contemporary generation of home-grown Irish stars – unlike other associate nations who turn to imports to field a competitive side – being forced to turn to England for further honours and international opportunities, the ICC needs to take steps to ensure they can keep their stars in Ireland.
Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan have both turned to their neighbours for the chance to play Test cricket. Can Ireland afford to lose the talents of young George Dockrell and his peers to England as well?
Obviously, there needs to be a domestic competition in place first, where Irish players can have their potential harboured and compete regularly at a high level. This will take a lot of infrastructure, which inevitably will require funding.
Other than that, most of the necessary steps have already been put in place.
Player development and the expansion of the game in Ireland are at an all-time high. Ireland’s recent success in cricket has catapulted them to cult hero status and they’re certainly a crowd favourite with their explosive flair and unpredictability.
Their victory over England in India last year was a tremendous achievement, watched and applauded by millions. Gate takings, sponsorship and viewership will certainly not prove to be an obstacle.
Both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe made the step-up to Test cricket in recent times, with indifferent levels of achievement. Bangladesh is beginning to create the backbone of player depth so dearly needed at the highest level while Zimbabwe’s political turmoil has proved a major roadblock for their continuing development.
Ireland on the other hand, has the luxury of stability and the benefits of wealth. With careful and calculated management, the Irish could easily rise in a similar fashion to that of Sri Lanka, the true associate come Test nation success story.
Sri Lanka demonstrated how an associate country could make the step up to the highest level successfully. Sri Lanka have featured in numerous World Cup finals and provided Test cricket with its greatest ever off-spin bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan.
While some may argue that a nation so small will struggle to create enough talent, New Zealand, a nation of comparable population, has been very competitive and continue to pose a threat to the elite sides, demonstrated in their sensational victory over Australia in Hobart late last year.
Former associate members have certainly been able to produce some excellent Test quality players. Zimbabwe brought us the likes of current English coach Andy Flower as well as fast bowler Heath Streak, Bangladesh produced up-and-coming star Tamim Iqbal and current number one ICC rated Test all-rounder (above Jaques Kallis and Shane Watson), Shakib-Al-Hasan.
While it would be unlikely for a world-beating eleven leprechauns to be put together tomorrow, a plan must certainly be put in place. Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce and George Dockrell are all worthy Test cricketers and players of similar quality are certain to be found all around the small island nation in the near future.
I have no doubts that if Ireland were the touring Test party in any nation, the crowds would flock to see what they could produce, especially since they have already demonstrated how competitive they can be on the world stage.
It’s time for a new green cap to enter the elites in Test cricket, that of the emerald isle.