Amateurs cannot be blamed for professional dreams June 29, 2007

Associates on a rocky path to nowhere

'Success at all costs' is the modern cricketer's mantra and, with Associate cricketers fleeing the skimpily paid amateur lifestyle for a professional world in England, and elsewhere, there is a real danger that the ICC's development work needs a major ret

Eoin Morgan has ditched Ireland for a professional life and England. And why not? © Getty Images

Regardless of the sport, to represent your country is an honour few are granted but, increasingly, the country or team a player represents is becoming less valued. "Success at all costs" is the modern cricketer's mantra and, with Associate cricketers fleeing the skimpily paid amateur lifestyle for a professional world in England, and elsewhere, there is a real danger that the ICC's development work needs a major rethink.

For such a laid back character, it was a shock to hear Jeremy Bray's vitriol against the Irish Cricket Union last week. Headlines sped across the world - "Aussie lambasts Irish cricket 'a joke'" - which was only partly true, as Bray has been in Ireland for years and is married to a local. But the content of what he said, however dispiriting to read, is sadly accurate. "It's hard to get to training because I live so far away," he said. "The reality is that it costs me money to play for Ireland."

He is not alone. Both Trent Johnston and Craig Wright, the Ireland and Scotland captains during the World Cup in the Caribbean, lamented the lack of money afforded to their countries. Wright even suggested that Scotland may have hit a "glass ceiling" and, given the paltry amount of money the ICC hand out to them each year, he is probably right.

Most Associate cricketers play the game out of love for the sport, sacrificing relationships and, no less importantly, their full-time jobs, leaving them in the unenviable situation of neither having time for their family or for cricket. Or their jobs. These are aspiring amateurs in a professional world; one of training regimes and treadmills; dieticians and doctors; hectic schedules, physiotherapists and psychologists, yet Ireland can't afford to pay their players. Bray, for example, earns more playing for his club than he does for his country. No wonder he's fuming.

Yet while the older players lament their lot, it is clear the current crop aren't content to sit back and wait for the Associate world to become professional. If that means seeking other opportunities, so be it. The players cannot and should not be blamed.

Following in Ed Joyce's footsteps, Eoin Morgan, one of Ireland's most promising batsmen in a generation, joined Middlesex in 2005. With a generous salary, access to the country's best coaches, exposure to teams of a far greater quality, it was a calculated and entirely personal decision to improve his standard as a cricketer. Morgan and his fellow splitters move to England to live their dream of playing cricket to the highest level, as professionals, receiving all the support that professionals should be given. As the song goes, the lush fields of Athenry are becoming lonely. Soon, though, they'll be fallow.

Jeremy Bray delivered a bouncer of his own, labelling the Irish Cricket Union 'a joke' © Getty Images

The counter argument is that, if the likes of Morgan and Joyce were to stay with Ireland, their presence would help improve the overall standard. But why should they be tied down to their home country - a team that would struggle to regularly compete with a county, let alone challenge a Test side? The emphasis is all wrong; Morgan and Joyce alone can't heave Ireland to glory: there has to be a framework in place.

But what can Ireland, and other Associates, do to fence in their home-grown talent? Morgan told Cricinfo earlier this year that "the facilities, the process, all the people around me at Middlesex are grooving me to play first-class cricket and take me forward"; that Ireland lack the necessary infrastructure to turn promising players into world beaters. And Ireland's results show just that: a promising World Cup campaign in the Caribbean, culminating in the downing of Pakistan lifted their profile but, since those halcyon days, injuries and a scarcity of match practice has left them in poor form.

And the solution? Well, money is an obvious answer but a vast injection of cash is merely a short-term fix. Kenya, for example, are on the verge of offering their players central contracts which, in itself, is a huge development. But, still - it is only 12 months. What about the long-term future of four, five or ten years?

Players looking elsewhere aren't gold diggers: they are desperate for success, whatever the cost.

Will Luke is a staff writer on Cricinfo