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Have England helped or hindered the development of Irish Cricket? It is possible to argue that England have in fact damaged Irish cricket; England calling up the likes of Eoin Morgan has caused a significant talent drain in the Irish player pool. However, it is also possible to argue that England have in fact helped Ireland more than damaged them; the inclusion of Ireland players in the county circuit has helped them reach a much higher level than what they would have playing in Ireland's current club format.
Do the positives outweigh the negatives? The most significant problem with the England connection, as mentioned earlier, is the talent drain. The loss of Ed Joyce in 2005 and Morgan in 2009 have created obvious problems in Ireland's batting line-up. Ireland, while proving themselves to be a constantly progressing team, have had one annoying hurdle that they have never fully overcome: batting collapses. And the loss of these two players has not helped.
Although Ed Joyce did return to the side in 2011, one can't deny how much stronger the batting line-up would have been with Morgan in it as well. In an ODI against Pakistan in May 2011, Ireland went from 44 for 1 to 96 all out by the end of the 20th over - a prime example of their proneness to collapses.
Though these have been the only two players to have left Ireland to play for their neighbours, the threat doesn't end there. Pace bowler Boyd Rankin, who played for the England Lions, came very close to being selected to play for England, while there is the threat of losing left-arm spinner George Dockrell and big-hitting opener Paul Stirling to England's ranks.
Another smaller problem (though this should be viewed more as a lack of support than a problem) is the want of games against England. Ireland have never played a full series against England (by full, I mean at least three ODIs and a T20I or two) despite their progress. The two countries usually only clash in a one-off game once every year or so. To be fair, England do have a very full international schedule, as often pointed out quite recently, and incorporating Ireland into that schedule could make a very tough roster for their players even more difficult to deal with.
Regardless of the problems, though, there's also the support proffered. The inclusion of Ireland's players on the county circuit has done wonders; the current players in county cricket (Porterfield, Joyce, Stirling, Niall and Kevin O'Brien, Wilson, Rankin, Dockrell) are usually the most consistent, best performers in the national team. While this is also due to talent, the exposure they have on the county circuit can't even be compared to that on offer in Irish domestic cricket (which Cricket Ireland is working on fixing).
And even more Irish players are being given an opportunity. A few weeks ago, John Mooney was permitted to join the Sussex second XI for a three week trial period, and though he couldn't finish the trial because of personal reasons, he was given the assurance that he could try-out again at a later date.
Also, the inclusion of the England-born Tim Murtagh in the Ireland side further presents the help Ireland get from England. Murtagh, a well-respected seamer who plays for Middlesex, has hasn't been able to make the England squad due to their already well-endowed pace attack. He qualified for Ireland in February (through his Irish grandparents).
Apart from the county support England, in general, does support the development of cricket in Ireland. The ECB has been a supporter of Ireland's claim for Test status. Overall, England does in fact help Irish Cricket more than it hinders it. The problems caused by the threat of Irish players playing for England has always been serious, however these were choices made by the players themselves and have never been forced upon them by England.
Joyce left to play for England when Irish cricket still hadn't made a name for itself (Ireland only played their first ODI in 2006) and even Morgan had begun working towards playing for England before Ireland's famous St Patrick's Day victory against Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. And since, with the exception of Rankin, Ireland players like Kevin O'Brien and Stirling have shown a reluctance to answer England's call - a giant step since, at the end of the day, it is for the player to choose who he wants to play for.
As for playing with more regularity against Ireland, with their already jam-packed international calendar, this would be a very tough demand for England to fulfil until the day Ireland receive Test status. To overcome this in the short term, they could consider sending the England Lions on tour to Ireland every year (or vice versa). This would provide some very competitive cricket for both sides, helping Ireland gain more quality exposure while also helping England's young players develop.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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