David Morgan meets with Cricket Ireland
Cricket Ireland have shared their plans for further progress with ICC President David Morgan as they continue to push their case for an ascent to Full Membership of cricket's governing body - a vital step towards their stated ambition to play Test cricket.
"I was extremely grateful for the invitation and the time spared by the Cricket Ireland board and was also impressed with the ambitions of Cricket Ireland," said Morgan following his meeting with Irish cricket officials. "Irish cricket is developing well as can be observed by Ireland's performances at recent ICC global events.
"Our discussions illustrated the challenges faced by all administrators within cricket to maintain the current strength of our great sport with its great spirit, and they highlighted that we are all charged with the same responsibility to lead the game forward."
Morgan's visit to Ireland was the latest of a series of meetings with ICC Members, and he has already met with the cricket boards of Full Members Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies as well as some other Associates and Affiliates. He will travel to Harare next week to have similar discussions with Zimbabwe Cricket.
"It was a real honour for us to be able to host the ICC President," said David Williams, Cricket Ireland's chairman. "We were able to share our plans for the continued development of cricket in Ireland and at the same time we were able to learn much more about the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead for this great game."
Ireland's ambition to play Test cricket was made clear in November last year when Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland's chief executive, sent a letter to the ICC stating his board's intention to apply for Full Membership - a potential pathway to Test status - and to seek clarification on the process. The ICC board discussed Ireland's proposal at their meeting in Dubai in February, but the question of Ireland's suitability for a position at cricket's top table is a complex one, with strong arguments both for and against their ascent to the next rung.
Kyle McCallan, the former Ireland allrounder who retired last year after a record 226 appearances for his country, believes that Ireland have the talent to warrant Test status, but warns that, unless that is granted soon, gifted players will continue to look abroad and the draining of Ireland's player pool will persist.
"It galls me that Irishmen are good enough to win World Cups with England but Ireland is not a strong enough cricket nation to eat from the top table of the ICC," he told BBC Sport. "We would be equally as good if we had the funding and the same supplementary services that the other Test playing countries have.
"We have the ability to be the next Test nation although people will say that's poppycock. Ireland will continue to have its best players taken from it until the playing field is made level. Cricket Ireland has that potential - there is enough talent in the country and enough people who are qualified for Ireland to allow it to play at the top level over a prolonged period of time."
There has been a notable improvement in Ireland's performances since their disastrous showing at the ICC Trophy in 2001, and in 42 one-day internationals since 2006 they have won 17 - including a famous win over Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup.
But during the same time period, they have lost batsmen of the quality of Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan to the lure of English cricket. Though Joyce has since made clear his intention to throw his lot in with Ireland once more ahead of the 2011 World Cup, Morgan has cemented a spot as a vital member of England's middle order in limited-overs cricket and made a start to his Test career with a debut against Bangladesh at Lord's last month.
England also appear to have an eye on Boyd Rankin, Ireland's most promising young fast bowler, who plays county cricket for Warwickshire and was included in the ECB's enhanced England Performance Programme. Ireland have attempted to stem the player drain by professionalising their structures, and in January six players were given full-time central contracts while county-based players were offered additional financial support.
Ireland's push for Full Member status appears to be gaining momentum, and their ranks could be further boosted by Hamish Marshall, the former New Zealand batsman, who recently announced his intention to resume his international career with Ireland when he qualifies in April 2011 through holding an Irish passport. However, until the door to cricket's elite table is opened to Ireland, it appears their progress has hit a glass ceiling.