Ireland needs consistency - ICC
Ireland's impressive form as an Associate has lifted their hopes of one day qualifying as a Full Member nation. However, the ICC's high performance manager, Richard Done, has issued a warning against complacency while calling for greater consistency if Ireland - and, indeed, other Associate nations - are to challenge the world's elite.
Last week, and for the third time in a row, Ireland reached the final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup - the Associates' principle four-day competition - and they have shown glimpses of genuine talent in ODIs. However, they were comprehensively thrashed by Zimbabwe in the first match of the Kenya Tri-series, prompting a note of caution from Done about Ireland's lofty ambitions.
"There is no question that Ireland have been top of the tree among the non-Test countries for the past 18 months or so, but that position needs to be maintained over a longer period of time," Done told the Irish Independent.
"Before you can start talking about any new country becoming a Full Member and playing Tests they would have to demonstrate a level of consistency and show that they can regularly compete with the bigger boys. That's what I'm looking for from the High Performance Program -- a consistency of performance on the field.
"You're not going to win every game, but you can't afford to be losing matches by large margins, like the defeat by Zimbabwe last Friday," Done said. "To hit the radar, Ireland would also want to be winning next April's World Cup qualifying tournament and then beat one or two of the Full Members in 2011 [World Cup].
"There has to be sustainability too. It would be important to know that this team isn't just a short-term boom -- that there is a depth there in playing strength, and the youth development pathway is right."
There are greater issues than simply Ireland's on-field performance. Cricket Ireland's rebranding, plus their appointment of Warren Deutrom as chief executive, was a step forward in professionalism. But until last summer, Deutrom amounted to 33% of the board's staff. The rest were volunteers, and for all Ireland's honest and infectious enthusiasm, support structures must be put in place if they are ever to be considered worthy of Full Member status.
"There is a bigger picture to this as well," Done added, "and it's whether Ireland as a whole sees itself as a cricketing nation, as you would have to say Bangladesh does, for example."