A costly farce unbecoming of a Test nation
In September 2013, 10,000 people crammed into a sun-kissed Malahide to watch Ireland host England in a one-day international that helped transform Irish cricket's image at home and abroad. Four years and ten days on, Ireland are left to reflect on a deeply embarrassing day, the sort unbecoming of their new Full Member status.
Yes, it rained; it often rains in Ireland. But for three hours from the scheduled start, the rain stayed away, the sun shone and a healthy crowd enjoyed perfect cricket-watching conditions. Only, there was no cricket to watch. Although heavy showers abated about 3am, the outfield was still unfit to use, after being left exposed the previous evening, when only the square and a small surrounding area were protected from the rain.
Covering the whole outfield would have been expensive, and labour-intensive. But in the absence of a high-tech drainage system, Cricket Ireland should have bought, begged or stolen whatever they needed - covers, and temporary groundstaff to use them - to give the match the best possible chance of going ahead.
The day had been 14 months in the planning, costing Ireland around €200,000. Why spend so much cash on a fixture - the sort that remains far rarer than they would like - and then not do everything possible to ensure it could lead to actual cricket? It was abject risk management.
Privately, Irish players were fuming - not with the few groundstaff themselves, but with Cricket Ireland for allowing the farce to break out. Had the game been in England, after equally intense rainfall, it would almost certainly have begun on time, at 1015; even with the later shower, there would most likely have been enough cricket to get an ODI in. That's why only 4% of ODIs in England end with a no-result.
Instead, for Ireland's third home ODI out of six, there was exasperation at an abandoned match. That is not just deeply frustrating for Ireland's players, who crave more matches if they are to improve - and they don't have any other confirmed ODIs against Full Members before the World Cup qualifiers, now expected to be in Zimbabwe in March. It also has deeper consequences for Cricket Ireland's stated ambition to make the sport mainstream.
Next time Ireland are playing an ODI at home, the healthy walk-up crowd, including an encouraging number of schoolchildren, might be less inclined to go: why bother to make the trip if there is no cricket even in glorious sunshine? Those at the ground today left angry, and less inclined to take a day off in the future to go to an Ireland game. "Where?" harrumphed one disgruntled spectator when the tannoy speaker assured fans that the groundstaff were doing everything they could to make conditions fit for play.
And broadcasters will be less likely to bother in future too. It cost eir Sport about €100,000 to provide coverage of the ODI. The risk of again not having a single ball to show - even when conditions appear perfect for cricket - will lead them to question their investment in the future. That would be disastrous for Cricket Ireland, who still badly need the exposure of coverage that is easily accessible to those who are not ardent cricket fans - exactly the group who Ireland must reach.
A day in which a delayed start gave way to a 10:30 inspection, then an 11:30 inspection, then a 12:30 inspection, and then a planned 1:30 inspection, before rain intervened, was a farce unbecoming of an organisation who have been acclaimed as one of world cricket's best-run. Nor does Ireland's lack of funding - they don't get the extra funding garnered by virtue of being a Full Member until January, and even then it will be under half of Zimbabwe's - provide any excuse.
Given how often matches are ruined by the weather here - not just internationals, but also the interprovincial competition - proper investment in groundstaff, covers and drainage would have been a far better use of funds than one of the seven ODIs against Test nations Ireland have played this summer.
Today was bad enough. But next year, Ireland hope to play their maiden Test at home, perhaps against Pakistan. If the match consists of five days of such unbecoming scenes, Irish cricket's image will not easily recover.