ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Bangladesh v Ireland, Group B, World Cup 2011, Mirpur
Ireland begin quest to prove they belong
February 24, 2011
The chief executive of Cricket Ireland, Warren Deutrom, has told his players to focus solely on the challenge of competing on the world stage, starting with their opening fixture against Bangladesh on Friday, and let the administrators handle the wider issues surrounding Associates cricket, as the debate hots up about the proposed exclusion of non-Test teams from the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Friday's match in Dhaka will be Ireland's first in World Cup cricket since their extraordinary performance in the Caribbean four years ago, in which they eliminated Pakistan in a thrilling three-wicket victory in the group stage in Jamaica, and qualified for the Super Eights where Bangladesh also fell victim to their team of talented part-timers.
The stakes, however, are rather higher four years on. Not only do Ireland come into this tournament with a reputation to uphold, they also know that they might not be invited back if they fail to at least match their efforts in 2007. As a direct result of the early elimination of India and Pakistan in that tournament, the 2011 format was changed to aid the progression of the top teams to the quarter-finals, and in 2015, the proposal is to do away with the Associates entirely and revert to a ten-team round-robin format.
Such a format would not do much to reduce the number of matches played in the World Cup - there would be at least 48 games in 2015, compared to 49 in 2011 and 51 in 2007 - but it would be expected to reduce the number of mismatches that have been a feature of the last two tournaments. The challenge for Ireland in the coming weeks is to demonstrate that they are a cut above the likes of Canada and Kenya, whose current teams - like Bermuda four years ago - have so far proved to be hopelessly out of their depth at this level.
"I've said to the players, don't worry that you are playing for our ODI future," Deutrom told ESPNcricinfo's Switch Hit podcast. "They have to go out and play for themselves and be naturally self-confident. I think a lot of the comments that the players have made over the last couple of weeks have been quite positive. We're not saying, 'yes we'll make the quarter-finals', but we are saying we are capable of making the quarter-finals if we perform to our potential."
The other Associate nation in Group B, the Netherlands, showed the tournament organisers exactly what they could be missing out in 2015, when they ran England excruciatingly close in their opening fixture in Nagpur on Tuesday. Their total of 292 for 6 left England needing to complete their second-highest run-chase in World Cup history to avoid humiliation, which they eventually managed with an uncomfortable eight balls to spare.
"It would be slightly unreasonable to expect the Associate nations to beat the likes of England, India, Australia or South Africa at a canter," said Deutrom. "What people want and the game wants are competitive fixtures, and what the Dutch showed is that perhaps the first few games weren't reflective of the skill that exists in the ICC's High Performance Programme."
However, the future of that programme - which also includes two further teams with ODI status, Scotland and Afghanistan - hangs in the balance in light of the ICC's plans for 2015, for it was last year's qualification tournament for the 2011 event that provided the main focus for the senior Associate nations. A meeting in Dubai prior to the World Cup produced more questions than answers, but at least a final decision on how to decide which ten teams take part in four years' time has been deferred until the end of the tournament.
"I think that is the right decision," said Deutrom. "What it does is allow the ICC board to make a decision based on all the evidence, rather than no evidence whatsoever. We are pleased because if two or three teams do perform well during the group stages, that does provide an option to look favourably on qualification, and to see if the number of teams is quite right."
Since their heroics in 2007, Ireland have used a combination of government funding, membership schemes and major events (including an annual fixture against England) to build an infrastructure around their team, professionalise their senior players, and push their claims to be considered for full international status - an ambition that remains Deutrom's ultimate goal.
However, even the most basic levels of administrative competence have been lacking from all too many of the other top-level Associates. The 2003 World Cup semi-finalists, Kenya, required ICC intervention in 2005 following long-standing allegations of corruption, while the failure of USA, Canada and Bermuda to build on their appearances in ICC events - dating back in Canada's case to the 1979 World Cup, has long been a source of frustration.
"I don't think we [the Associates] do ourselves any favours sometimes," said Deutrom. "With fewer human and economical resources, it's difficult for us all to be consistent at any one time, but if you look at the number of competitive ODI teams, it's more than just 10.
"An associate team has progressed at the last two 50-over World Cups, to the semi-finals and Super Eights respectively. Last year Ireland and Netherlands beat full-member opposition, and the current rankings reflect the fact that Ireland is tenth above Test opposition [Zimbabwe]. We face some major questions about where we go from here, but we certainly have no desire for the story to end here."