Ireland cricket March 2, 2013

Give Ireland the chance they deserve

Alex Braae
The ICC and Full Member nations need to encourage Associate teams like Ireland if the game has to thrive globally

The Irish have, for long, been a diasporic people. Over the past two centuries, it is believed nearly 100 million Irish have emigrated, a number that far outstrips the current population of the island. Limited opportunities and harsh economic conditions have created a culture of leaving to survive and prosper.

Cricket is just another facet of Irish society where opportunities don't exist at home, forcing their best to leave in order to advance their careers. As was the case with the many waves of the Irish emigrants, this is not the fault of anyone in Ireland.

The Irish cricket setup is the most professional among all Associate nations. However, they are given scant opportunities to show their development against Full Members. Over the rest of the year, Ireland will play three times against Full Members - twice against Pakistan and once against England. Even if they do win one of these games, it probably wouldn't help their cause, as evidenced by the situation they are in, in spite of having repeatedly beaten Full Member teams at ICC events.

Now there is news that Boyd Rankin will follow in the footsteps of Eoin Morgan, quitting Irish duty in the hope of an England call-up. Rankin is a talented and ferocious fast bowler, and would be a fine candidate for most Test teams in the world. His county cricket bowling average is below 30, a fantastic return in a competitive league. He has spoken about his desire to play Test cricket and who can blame him? It is the pinnacle of the sport we all love and he has a chance to play if he denies his homeland. The temptation to remain committed to Ireland must be strong on a personal level, but on a professional level he is right to make the best of what limited time is available to him as an athlete.

The ICC is nominally committed to growing the game worldwide, but it is dismally failing in this mission. As Martin Williamson argued, the prospects of Associate nations have diminished even further with lucrative Twenty20 leagues pushing them off the fixture calendar. Greed, it appears, is costing cricket the chance to develop into a truly global sport. Imagine the boost cricket would get if a fraction of the millions of people of Irish descent were given a real chance to cheer for their country.

Players leaving Ireland to play elsewhere is a symptom of a wider problem. Afghanistan, Holland, Canada, Scotland and Namibia are also promising nations who aren't being given the opportunity to develop. The message being sent by Full Member boards to Associates seems clear: They are second-class nations. The ICC which, alas, is dominated by the boards of Full Member nations must realise that their sport will stagnate and die if they don't stop chasing short-term cash over long-term development. They should not confine Associate teams to the ghetto of the Intercontinental Cup; rather they should show real leadership and force Full Member boards to play against Associate teams.

In the case of Ireland, they must be put on a clear pathway to Test status. Their national team should have first-class fixtures against A teams of Full Member nations and the latter must commit to playing at least five games against Associate nations every year. They could be in any format, and Full Members could even field second-string lineups, but the matches could have full international status. Third, all players who are eligible to play for an Associate nation should be granted some form of amnesty to return and play for them, ensuring that Associate teams have the talent required to test the Full Member nations.

With these measures, cricket could become a more vibrant, dynamic and global sport. It could have the global appeal of basketball or football; instead those who currently control it seem content to let it become akin to the rugby league. The Irish should be the test case - if they are given the opportunity to become a Test nation, perhaps the exodus of cricketers can be reversed and Irish cricketers will have a reason to return home.

This is a crucial moment for the game: it can either spread across the entire world, or it can choose to become a niche sport, uncared for outside the few nations who play it.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • suabhdeep on March 4, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    Ireland must be without any delay given the test playing status. However ICC must be practical in not enforcing other nation to play against them as FTP. Then no prominent nations will agree unless it become economically profitable and physically endurable for their players . Instead ICC should give Test status to couple of other nations like, Kenya, Netherlands and enforce these two nations and two/three less prominent nations like Banladesh, Zimbabwe, New Zeekand to play very regularly against them. In this way I hope within 10 years they would become sufficiently strong team to compete with top sides. Once these countries assume elite status and their plying record would be regarded as serious achievement there would automatically be a wave of popularity created within the countries.

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2013, 10:19 GMT

    I am big fan of Ireland cricket team and think that they are far better than Bangladesh cricket team Ireland should have given Test status immediately as they have proved their talent so many times. I don't know why ICC is not trying to promote the game. If they want to do so they should take steps and give a road map to them to test status

  • Philip on March 3, 2013, 6:42 GMT

    The ICC has to do something about improving scheduling so that the likes of Ireland can be properly accommodated. However, I still maintain that Test-status would only be half of their recipe for success. A pan-European First Class competition encompassing the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland and maybe one day even a stand-alone Wales, would give them the best chance of improving to the point where they were genuinely competitive at their FC level. This would eliminate the drain of players into the English system and maybe see even a few more go the other way. It is only by maintaining a strong feeder-competition that their national teams will shine, but that competition doesn't itself have to be confined to national borders. The alternative is separate Dutch, Scottish and Irish FC systems and that will never challenge the might of County cricket. It is only in unity that non-English strength will be found. After all, each face the same challenge of limited bargaining-power on their own.

  • niyas on March 3, 2013, 4:17 GMT

    Its the time that icc should invest in associate countries for infrastructural devpt. And more Ireland should have given Test status immediately as they have proved their talent somany times. I dont know why icc is not trying to promote the game. If they are including cricket in Olympics, that would a giant leap.

  • Terry on March 3, 2013, 1:46 GMT

    The ICC needs to make the following changes: (1) All countries get a Global Ranking and a ranking for each format. Global ranking should be promoted as the main format like in soccer with "ranking groups" established instead of membership types. (2) A player that qualifies to play for a country once played an international match must wait to goto another country in the same or higher ranking group. Players can instantly play for a country in a lower ranking group. (3) Each format has multiple tiers which lasts two years with promotion & relegation. The tiers are used as qualifiers for tournaments with highest ranked host guaranteed a tournament spot only (4) All international matches are counted as test, ODI and T20I matches. (5) No country is allowed to play warm up matches against first class teams, only against other countries with warm up match not affecting rankings (eg: Aust vs Ireland warmup for Ashes) (6) All full members have 1+ first class teams from @ assoc country in region

  • David on March 2, 2013, 20:47 GMT

    You are essentially right. It's greed in a sense, but it's also the other nations protecting themselves. Promoting Ireland to Test status forces yet ANOTHER tour into the bloated international schedule. The other nations won't be happy, especially if Ireland can't perform very well on the field. That means less spectators when they tour, and big name players resting or choosing IPL instead of playing against Ireland. Ultimately, the boards would avoid scheduling Ireland as much as they could - like Bangladesh has been.

    No, the best way to help Irish cricket is to find a way to protect their good players and get their cricket standard up without bloating the international schedule too much. That means 'A' tours. 'A' teams from the top nations will give Ireland plenty of good competition and won't force boards into series that they don't want. So instead of England Lions touring and playing Australia A currently, Ireland needs to get in on some of that action.