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ICC’s contempt for associates exposed for its naivety after UAE-Ireland blockbuster

Ireland have made great progress in cricket recently.
Roar Guru
26th February, 2015
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Picture the scene. We are in the 100th and final over of a thoroughly engrossing day of cricket. Two teams have plundered 554 runs equally, and the batting side need just three off the final over to win.

The opposition’s opening bowler, however, needs just two tail-end wickets to force a famous victory for his side.

The fans in the stands are on the edge of their seats – if they are even sitting down at all, and all eyes are fixed on the action in the middle. Even police officers, patrolling the stands among the raucous crowd, have one eye firmly fixed on the big screen.

You could be forgiven for thinking we are talking about two of the great teams of our generation facing off in front of a packed, baying crowd. But we are not talking about one of the eight Test playing, full member nations. We are talking about Ireland and the UAE in front of 5249 people.

Facing each other for the first time in a full ODI, these two associate members combined to play the most exciting match of the tournament so far, lighting up the ‘Gabba after the disappointment of Saturday’s washout.

Neither side has a lot of experience in playing on the big stage – yet they put the full members to shame with a thrilling ODI that extolled all the virtues of the 50-over format over the brash younger sibling of the game.

It took long periods of staid consolidation in the middle overs from both sides’ batsmen to rescue their innings from disappointingly low scores, but by keeping wickets in hand and utilising the batting power-play more effectively than many full member nations, both sides went on to record impressive and competitive totals.

The UAE were restricted to a run rate of just 3.7 in the opening 35 overs, before Shaiman Anwar (106 off 83) and Amjad Javed (42 off 35) put together a free-flowing 107-run partnership from just 71 balls, rescuing the UAE from 6-131 in the 35th over, to finish on 9-278.

Ireland too had to cope with some exceptional bowling from Mohammad Naveed (9.2-1-65-2), Javed (10-0-60-3) and the deceptive Manjula Guruge (7-0-21-1), who combined to have the Irish reeling on 4-97 in the 26th over. When Andy Balbirnie (30 off 41) fell in the 39th over with Ireland still needing 108 runs in 68 balls, it took something special to get them over the line with the required run rate up at nearly 10 an over.

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But Ireland’s 2007 World Cup hero Kevin O’Brien was next in, and by bludgeoning a 25-ball half century in a 36-ball partnership worth 72 with man of the match Gary Wilson (80 off 69), he reduced the winning equation to a run a ball, and from there the Irish tail scampered the required runs to record their second consecutive win of the tournament.

The pressure of bowling at the death got to both teams, so much so for O’Brien that he was fined 30 per cent of his match fee for dissent over a (correct) wide call from the umpire. And his erratic death bowling added significantly to the UAE’s total. But the UAE also had their problems, with dropped catches and miscommunications in the field costing them severely.

But despite the occasional errors, this match has been the pick of the tournament, a rose among the thorny blowouts we have seen from some of the matches involving full member nations, and a perfect example of ODI cricket.

But unfortunately, neither are likely to participate at the next running of the World Cup in 2019.

Both Ed Joyce and William Porterfield have expressed their disappointment at the lack of opportunities for associate member nations between World Cups and the reduction of teams at the next World Cup in 2019. Tellingly both have the support of legends Sachin Tendulkar and Mahela Jayawardene to name but two.

In his tournament program notes, ICC chairman Narayanaswami Srinivasan proudly declares that the “ICC’s intention is also to provide our developing countries the opportunity of competition at the highest level”. Unfortunately for Ireland and the UAE, the actions of the ICC speak louder than words.

By reducing the number of teams eligible to play in the World Cup, we remove the opportunity for these teams to showcase their talents on the biggest stage, and in doing so we halt their development and remove the possibility of diversifying the cricketing environment beyond the traditional areas.

Hearing The Fields of Athenry ring out around a cricket ground like the ‘Gabba is unique in cricket, I certainly didn’t think I’d ever experience it, and unfortunately am unlikely to do so again.

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There was no disguising the importance of this match was after seeing the Irish players run over to celebrate with the Blarney Army, who are potentially just one win away from the quarter-finals – further proof of the increasing quality of the cricket.

One can only hope that the ICC reconsider their stance on the next World Cup, and pay attention to the rising tide of popular opinion in favour of more opportunities for the associate members, and that as many as possible are allowed to continue to colour and entertain at future World Cups.

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