Pakistan in Ireland, 2011 May 31, 2011

What lies ahead for Ireland?

Ger Siggins
While Ireland may be the most promising of all the Associate nations, they still have many problems to confront in their bid to develop as a strong cricketing force

The 2-0 defeat against Pakistan in the just concluded ODI series, while disappointing, was a very useful experience for Ireland, as bilateral series against Full Members is high on the priority list for Cricket Ireland. But the games in Stormont also highlighted the challenges that confront the most ambitious of the Associate nations.

The most pressing problem, of course, is the one that comes to a head in Hong Kong in late June when the ICC executive must decide whether they will turn the ICC Cricket World Cup into a glorified 'Full Members Trophy'.

It is a decision that has transfixed this land, and exercised government ministers on both sides of the border. For what is at stake is arguably the whole future of the sport in Ireland.

The fears can be summarised thus: the plan to develop a national stadium will lose impetus without top-class competition, the commercial funds flocking to the sport will dwindle without World Cup exposure, and a drop in such funding will mean an inevitable slippage in playing standards.

The high-quality cricket and thrilling memories Ireland brought to successive World Cups could soon be mere footnotes in a history book.

Some of the challenges encountered in Stormont are insurmountable - Ireland's location on the fringes of the north Atlantic ensures a damp climate where temperatures rarely test the manufacturers of sun-block. The first game against Pakistan started more than three hours late, which was better than what happened the previous two weekends, when almost no cricket was played in the northern part of the island. A five-month summer season can hardly afford to lose so much playing time.

The attendance, too, was disappointing. The weather can be blamed for a lack of walk-up spectators, but the 2,000 who attended on Saturday were mainly there to support the visitors. Cricket Ireland, and its players, has done fantastic work spreading the game in recent years but outside Dublin there is a worrying shortage of support for the national team.

The final challenge is to increase the number of potential international players - and retain them. The performances at the weekend were not helped by the absence through injury of George Dockrell, Niall O'Brien and Hamish Marshall - and the loss of Eoin Morgan to England still rankles with local followers. A small squad cannot afford to lose key players to injury - and certainly can't afford to lose any more permanently to its neighbours.

The excellent youth development programme can also be encouraged, and has been successful in bringing many of the current side to that level. Several youngsters have already linked up with English counties, and names such as Graeme McCarter (Gloucestershire), Jordan Coghlan (Hampshire) and Craig Young (Sussex) are likely to be in Ireland sides of the near future.

Others can be brought on by strengthening and streamlining the domestic game. The inter-union competition was dropped in 2003, and has been partly reintroduced this year with two North v South games (the first of which was cancelled due to rain). For those eight years the only, tiny, bridge between Saturday afternoon club cricket and the team that plays in World Cups were infrequent A-internationals. Of course all the improvements made on the playing and administrative side - and those in the pipeline - will be a complete waste of time if ICC opts to bar the associates from qualifying for 2015.

Had a voting member of the ICC Executive Board walked through the gates at Stormont yesterday, he would surely have seen enough in the breathtaking innings of Paul Stirling to convince him that he and his team-mates must be at the 2015 World Cup. Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq confessed to enjoying watching Stirling bat, even as his best bowlers were put to the sword.

The idea that Stirling, plus World Cup heroes Dockrell and Kevin O'Brien, might never be seen again on such a stage terrifies those who care about cricket in the Celtic outpost.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muthuvel on June 1, 2011, 18:02 GMT

    Not too sure why BD fans fume at all Associate nations, they should like them because some of them play better cricket that their own team. BD's test status sponsorship can be used to provide permanent member sponsorship to Ireland, we would end up getting an other good team for world cricket with some help Ireland can surely catchup with west indies or even NZ in quick time.

  • Dummy4 on June 1, 2011, 17:22 GMT

    associates should have a chance in 2015 WC.

  • Pankaj on June 1, 2011, 14:00 GMT

    Ireland is certainly much superior to Bangladesh. I think BD should be chucked out of next world cup to make way for Ireland. And Mr. Saddam Rasool - please do not try to bracket BD with Pak, NZ and Windies teams. Your BD is not even a patch on these teams. You did win a match or two in last World cup at home, so do not be over thrilled.

  • Dre on June 1, 2011, 12:04 GMT

    Ire still has show lots of fight, despite their challenges and absence of key players. An in form Nial O brien may well have made a difference considering his strength against spin, although his replacement was good. Docrell is also a very good spinner. Guys like cricket_for_all sound jealous of Ire and to compare them to other associates is ridiculous. Ire have competed well against full members for the most part despite their unfairly limited exposure. They also dominate associate cricket despite almost never fielding their strongest sides in such competitions.

  • Dummy4 on June 1, 2011, 6:58 GMT

    @Edson Charikinya once again you come onto a Irish section and insult Ireland?, if you have nothing positive to say perhaps stay out of this section, as you're entitled to your opinions but to cast them here to just insult Ireland isn't very nice at all,

    @Cricket for all, you don't see a difference between Ireland and Canada and Holland, Kenya etc?, the fact we won the leading associate cup three years in a row and went unbeaten for many years in the competition is obviously not good enough,

    I think we are given such high praises is because we are consistently performing against our fellow associates and even top teams...

  • Rakesh on June 1, 2011, 6:41 GMT

    @ cricket_for_all:By any chance are you a BD fan?? :)

  • Moha on June 1, 2011, 2:19 GMT

    I don't see any different between Ireland and other associate teams (Netherland, Canada, etc..). In theory Ireland should be better team since they expose to English county cricket. Why do we need to give chance to Ireland only what about Canada, Kenya, Afghanistan?. I would treat all the associate teams in a same way. For me they didn't show any fight with relatively weak Pakistan team.

  • MANU on May 31, 2011, 13:57 GMT

    Siggins has described rightly on blunder of 10 member WC.If Ireland is given opportunity to play more matches against top teams and in WC,cricket will get a new test nation.

  • Dummy4 on May 31, 2011, 13:36 GMT

    Teams like Ireland, Netherland, Scotland, Afghanistan etc need atleast 10 12 matches regularly each year against top 8 teams to improve. I am very much sure if Ireland plays with Westindies Newzeland Pakistan Bangladesh and other top 5 teams in a 5 match series or a 3 match series on a regular basis, they will start defeating them and will give them hard time in a near future. We just need to be patient with these teams and must give them time and proper chances. At the moment the ICC wants to do the contrary.

  • Nihal on May 31, 2011, 13:00 GMT

    The ICC better have a re-think on their decision to bar the associates from the 2015 world cup. Failure to give an opportunity to qualify will lead to the death of cricket in Ireland and the other leading associates. Kenya is a sad case in point and hopefully that story won't get repeated in Ireland.

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