ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
World Cup 2011
Ireland prove they belong on the world stage
Ireland were the best of the Associates by far and their performances more than justified their presence in the tournament
March 22, 2011
World Cup performance
In many ways, Ireland had the most to lose of all the Associate teams at this World Cup. After performing they way they did in 2007, there was the pressure of expectation and with the next tournament set to be reduced to 10 teams, and no clear way for the Associates to qualify yet determined, they also knew it may prove to be their last chance. Once again, though, they played a vital part in bringing the tournament to life and, despite not reaching the quarter-finals, did more than enough to show they deserve to be in the mix for future versions.
It's a sign of their development that not progressing was such a disappointment. Their defeat against Bangladesh always looked a costly slip and so it proved after they managed the major upset by beating England. The anger shown at Gary Wilson's controversial lbw against West Indies stemmed from the belief they could still win that match. Even against a powerful South Africa unit they were competing strongly, until JP Duminy took the game away.
Unlike fellow Associates, they don't rely on one or two key names to carry the rest of the line-up; there is talent throughout the team. They found new heroes in Kevin O'Brien and John Mooney against England, not to mention the unheralded Alex Cusack, and in the run chase against Netherlands, Paul Stirling showed his potential.
William Porterfield is a mature captain, who speaks intelligently about the game, and led the side impressively. There should be plenty to feel positive about regarding the future, but these remain uncertain times for Associate nations. Ireland have done enough to deserve better.
The run-chase against England in Bangalore wrote another chapter in Irish sporting history and Kevin O'Brien opened the door to potential personal riches. O'Brien couldn't quite live up to his 63-ball 113 for the rest of the tournament, but that one innings began the talk of IPL and county deals. From Ireland's view there was no better side to turn over in such circumstances than their close neighbours. Both Ireland and O'Brien can't live on that performance forever, but it will never be forgotten by anyone watching.
The failed run-chase against Bangladesh, in Dhaka, left Ireland with a mountain to climb. Most gallingly they should have reached the target - their subsequent batting in the tournament proved that - but their conviction went missing for a three crucial hours.
They have the deepest batting in Associate cricket, which was clearly demonstrated by their magical chase against England. Ireland also had as many centuries batting second - two - as the rest of the teams combined. Before the tournament it was suggested Porterfield, Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien would need to do most of the scoring, but Kevin O'Brien showed he has a touch of Andrew Flintoff about him. Due to the county exposure of most of the top order, Ireland's batsmen have a toughness and technique not displayed regularly by Associates. In George Dockrell, they have an outstanding prospect, while their fielding put some Test nations to shame.
Boyd Rankin had a disappointing tournament and it left Ireland short on pace bowling. At one time, Rankin was being suggested as another who might gain England's interest, but he went backwards at this event, albeit on some flat pitches. With Trent Johnston's knees on the verge of giving way, his career won't last much longer, so Rankin is a vital part of Ireland's future if they want to consistently compete against top teams.
All eyes will be on the decision regarding qualification for the 2015 tournament. If Ireland aren't given a chance to be involved, it will be a travesty but that will require some open-mindedness from the Full Members. On the field they can't really have done much more to make their case; now it's down to the boardrooms and political manoeuvring of the ICC.
Four years, though, is a long wait regardless of what decisions are made. In the shorter-term, Ireland need more exposure to the top sides but this will be difficult in a cramped calendar, although playing the mini tri-series with Sri Lanka and Scotland during July is a start. It would be nice to see England take a lead - beyond their one-off ODI in August - but their current fixture-list is at breaking point. Ireland, too, have a host of Associate-level agreements to keep and need to maintain their standards at that level as well as look for greater challenges.
However, the game has been put on a sound footing by strong management. Central contracts, helped the financial backing of loyal sponsors, have given players who aren't county professionals some security and allowed them to focus on their game. Still, the challenge is keeping hold of the very best of Ireland's talent. Dockrell could be the next to leave - his performances with Somerset once he recovers from a dislocated shoulder will be monitored closely - but at least Associate players can continue to play for the country of birth until qualifying for a Test nation.
The ultimate ambition of Test cricket remains a long way off and is unlikely to ever come to fruition. Ireland has no first-class structure and it's difficult to see how one could be put in place. But they are more than worthy of their place on the international stage.
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