Ireland v England, RSA Challenge, Malahide September 3, 2013

Ireland past highlights future problems

Ger Siggins at Malahide
The performances of Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin were reasons for Irish pride but defeat highlighted shortcomings in the team

For centuries, the Irish nation has exported its young men and women, casting them far and wide in search of a living, and occasionally fortune. They are not forgotten, however, and a tradition has grown of cherishing the diaspora. An eternal flame burns a candle in the window of the president's mansion to signify this and 2013 was proclaimed as the year the emigrant should return, labelled the year of "The Gathering".

The president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, came to watch this ODI at Malahide but even a veteran politician would have been shocked at the ingratitude of two of the nation's sons. Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin both came up through the Irish ranks as fresh-faced schoolboys, their talent brought out and nurtured by largely volunteer coaches and mentors. They left it as steely eyed professionals, changing allegiances to further their careers. Few in Ireland actually begrudge them doing this, recognising the flawed system that forces them to do so and damning instead the game's administrators who fail to prevent it.

William Porterfield pointed this out after the pair had both recorded their best ODI performances (Morgan 124 not out, Rankin 4 for 35) to spearhead England's victory.

"It's a credit to Irish cricket that we can produce players like Eoin and Boyd. We have an Irish cricket culture now and it's growing by the day", he said. "There were nearly 10,000 through the gates today and I hope the youngsters will be inspired by them."

Whatever the long-term rewards accruing from the biggest game ever held in Ireland - the attendance was a whisker under 10,000 - there are short- and medium-term problems with the team that were harshly exposed by Morgan and Ravi Bopara during a record, matchwinning fifth-wicket stand.

With Rankin gone and Trent Johnston playing his last ODI on Sunday, there's a worryingly hollow echo in the seam bowling cupboard. Tim Murtagh was excellent but, at 32, he and his allrounder team-mates Alex Cusack (32), John Mooney (31) and Kevin O'Brien (29) are getting on. All lack the pace to excel at the most demanding level.

Max Sorensen is brisk and has done well for Ireland, although his ODI debut here was unremarkable with the ball. After that you have Eddie Richardson, a fine club and provincial player but as yet uncapped and a clutch of promising, injury-prone youngsters such as Graeme McCarter (Gloucestershire), Craig Young (Sussex) and Peter Chase (Malahide).

Ireland's spin twins, George Dockrell and Paul Stirling, also looked like men who had spent most of the season bowling to county 2nd XI batsmen and couldn't raise their game.

For Porterfield himself, it was a startling return to form after a dismal season with Warwickshire. Even with Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell away with England last week, the county dropped him after a run of 35 innings with just two 50s. For Ireland, If you take away games against Bangladesh, Porterfield has only made one fifty in 38 innings against Full Members.

So his 112 - extending his Ireland record to ten centuries - was important to him. "It was nice to lead from the front and get a few runs," he said. "We thought 270 was a competitive total but we didn't expect the wicket to slow down.

"What was pleasing for the team was that we were able to put ourselves in a winning position, just as we did in the two ODIs against Pakistan earlier in the summer. But it's frustrating not to build the pressure and see it through."

One positive for Cricket Ireland was the astonishing transformation of a village field into a major international venue. With every seat brought in, plus dressing rooms, corporate areas and media centre, it was cricket's first pop-up venue.

And when the sun beat down like a mid-summer heatwave, and the beaming Higgins and ICC president Alan Isaac looked out over the arena, Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom's Field of Dreams was complete. It was only on the field that expectations fell short, and that was largely due to the brilliant batting of a man who played his club cricket on this very ground a decade ago.

Comments