Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Step In The Right Direction

Whether as a player or a supporter, cricket in Ireland can easily frustrate. We go out there, play some great matches, take some great scalps, and then, back home to work.

Some of our strongest players head across the water; while infuriating for Irish fans, you can see their point: they want to play cricket at the highest level; they want it to be their career. It hasn't worked out for Ed Joyce yet, and although Eoin Morgan has had a promising start he's going to find it difficult to hold down a regular place, especially with Kevin Pietersen back.

If the situation stays the same in Ireland, with a glass ceiling stopping us from progressing any further, and limiting the professional contracts available, it’s going to continue.

The move this week from Cricket Ireland to apply for Full Member status from the ICC, allowing them to play Test match cricket, is a hugely positive move. But will it be crowned with success?

Ireland’s performances on the pitch have certainly given them a good platform for application: unbeaten in first-class matches since 2004, Super-8 qualification in both the ODI and Twenty20 World Cups, victory in the 2011 World Cup qualifying tournament, and three Intercontinental Cup wins in a row. No one can say that we don’t have a competitive, passionate, and ultimately successful team. The performance against Bangladesh in the World Cup this year was composed under pressure, and a perfect example of how to pace a run chase.

So what are the problems?

Cricket is about money. The ICC and he national boards are money mad. Whether it’s their association with Allen Stanford or the scheduling of endless ODI series, so much of world cricket seems to be about the next dollar. If Ireland want to break into the top flight, they’ll need to show that they can bring money to the game, and not just be a drain. Ireland need to show that they can get their matches on TV, and Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland CEO, identified this as key. England, South Africa, and India matches were all shown in 2006, but this year Ireland haven’t been on the screen except in the World Cup.

Bangladesh were the last team to be elevated, back in 2000. However, they have a much larger population to draw from, and are helpful to India as a voting partner. The politics of cricket are finely balanced, and don’t be surprised if the subcontinental teams vote against the application.

Commentators have also pointed to Ireland’s facilities – can we host Australia in test matches? The ground in Stormont is a good ground, and is fine for ODIs, but it will need work if top-class cricket is to be played. Given the importance of getting fans to the matches from a commercial point of view, we’re going to need bigger stands that we can fill. I can’t see Brian Lenihan’s budget sending a lot of money Ireland’s way, but at the same time, Irish cricket does receive sponsorship from various source.

Let’s be honest – the odds are that Ireland will be refused. However, even the application process is a big move in the right direction. It shows the world that we have ambition and drive, that we want to play with the big boys. It may not happen straight away, but we’ve shown out intent, and no one can deny that Irish cricket has a bright future ahead.

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