Peter Roebuck
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Former captain of Somerset; author of It Never Rains, Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh and other books

Why Ireland should be a Test nation

Cricket needs to move beyond its cosy cartel of countries, bring in more teams, and have two or more divisions

Peter Roebuck

November 5, 2009

Comments: 78 | Text size: A | A

Trent Johnston struck two early blows, Ireland v England, only ODI, Stormont, August 27, 2009
It's high time Ireland's victories over superior opponents were regarded as more than flukes © Getty Images
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Ireland's current application for Test status ought to be taken seriously. Indeed, it ought to be accepted, and that means convincing at least seven of the 10 established nations to give it the green light.

Not that the Irish can start playing Test cricket next month. Instead a time-table is required to give that fine land time to complete its preparations. Test cricketers cannot be microwaved. Nor can Test teams or grounds. If Ireland is to survive the awaiting examinations then it needs to get to work right away with a view to playing its first five-day match three years hence. It cannot be any longer delayed. Already Ireland's top players are trying their luck with England. Not content with pinching their potatoes, the Poms are now taking Ireland's players. All the more reason to get behind Boyd Rankin, Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce and their comrades. There is a tide in the affairs of men and all that...

Cricket needs to move beyond its tight little cartel of colonial and post-colonial countries. Otherwise it'll spend the rest of its history contemplating its navel and worrying about border disputes, despots, civil wars, religious and racial disharmony, suppression, patronage, rugby, soccer and all the other complications of contemporary and future life. The only way to avoid these internal battles periodically crippling the game is to widen its appeal, to turn it from an imperial relic into a world game. To that end the ICC has with increasing vigour and growing success been seeking to take the gift of the game to every possible nook and cranny of a shrinking world torn between tradition and Twitter. That is the way to breathe life into the game.

All sorts of n'er-do-wells grumble about India's stranglehold, but that is power, money and democracy. Previously almost as many fatheads grizzled about England's 100-year domination. Both arguments miss the point. Plain and simple, there is not nearly enough to run. The game has not stretched itself. It has been sustained by an empire, and latterly because the world's largest democracy is infatuated with it. These strokes of luck ought to be a beginning not an end. Or do the craven conservatives imagine that cricket contain some secret beyond the ken of South Americans, Serbians and so forth?

Cricket ought to have more confidence in itself. It is not the dreary recreation endured in junior school. It is a vibrant game occasionally spoilt by the slow-witted. Consider it well. All those sixes smacked out of the ground, all that scurrying between wickets, all those subtle slow bowlers and explosive speedsters, and the quietness and sense of anticipation in between. Tall and small batsmen, lefties and righties, and the sudden shafts of passion as a wicket falls. But the game knows all that. It just does not believe it. The clichés about nothing happening are wide of the mark. In any case, a pal went to her first baseball game last September and had to wait till 2.30 in the morning and the 14th inning for a run to be scored. Yet baseball survives. Now cricket has its 50-over contests and Twenty20 and so forth. Baseball has fallen behind. It's high time it introduced three-inning matches. But do not tell them.

Certainly cricket has its own culture, and is handed down through the generations. The list of fathers and sons playing the game is long and grows apace. An England team could be listed consisting of sons (you know what I mean). Let's try it. Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Ryan Sidebottom, Riki Wessels, Joshua Cobb, Tom Maynard, David Willey, Jonathan Bairstow, and add a few of your own. The process has to start somewhere. Decades ago I told Ali Bacher that his township coaches were instructing the fathers of the forthcoming black South African team, not the players themselves. It is a handed-down game. But it is also glorious. And everywhere it started from scratch.

 
 
Cricket is altogether too precious about Test cricket. In every other sport it is possible for strong and weak to meet without the game getting into a palaver about it. Brazil can play the Isle of Man in football and it's still called a fair-dinkum international
 

Of course the backwoodsmen resist all newcomers and regard money spent in Sierra Leone, China, Papua New Guinea and Argentina, for example, as wasted. Presumably they think it ought to be given to the folks in Marylebone, Melbourne or Mumbai, fellows anxious to obtain yet another roller or an eighth pair of batting gloves. These defeatists think the game is doomed to remain within its current parameters and point out that American games are likewise constrained. Far from giving in so easily, cricket needs to work even harder to turn molehills into mountains. Happily the much-maligned ICC- what fun it is to bag governing bodies and selectors and other grey-faced bodies - takes a longer view. Aware that cricket has many attractions and quite a lot of money, it is sending coaches all over the place and starting leagues and introducing promotion and relegation so that ambitious nations can see the pathway to the top. In some places, admittedly, cricket depends on its migrant population (England and Canada spring to mind). Elsewhere the locals are taking to it.

And Ireland sits at the top of this particular tree. All the more reason to award them Test status. In any case cricket is altogether too precious about Test cricket. In every other sport it is possible for strong and weak to meet without the game getting into a palaver about it. Brazil can play the Isle of Man in football and it's still called a fair-dinkum international. If Kaka scores 10 goals, all and sundry shrug and smile and forget about it. When the same things happen in cricket, steam comes out of the ears of statisticians and historians worried about Arthur Shrewsbury's legacy, or other ancient irrelevances. Entire books of statistics are produced. Entire books. Indeed the game's most weighty and revered tome consists mostly of figures. The past has its place but its tyranny ought to be challenged. Context does matter but the game cannot remain hidebound. Does anyone care that much about Ken Barrington's average? Or Bob Cowper's? And has not cricket often pitted powerful against weak? Admittedly it has not happened quite as much in the last few decades, but India, South Africa and others fielded threadbare sides in their early outings.

Moreover Test cricket is not weakened by the number of sides taking part at the elite level but by the fact that the strongest and weakest regularly play against each other. That distorts the picture. And the solution is obvious. Split the top nations into two divisions, and in 10 years' time make it three. Allow promotion and relegation. Arrange Test championships. What the heck - aspiring nations ought to be encouraged, not kept in their place. But the product needs to improve. Slow over-rates, drinks breaks, stoppages for rain and bad light, intrusions by servants dressed as 12th men, changing the ball, and all the other delaying tactics ought to be abolished. At all times the game must go on. Shelter, transport, entertainment and refreshments ought to be provided for hard-pressed and often insulted spectators. Cricket is competing in a marketplace and needs to take its public into account.

Ireland has worked hard for years and has maintained a high standard. At present it lacks a first-class structure but one is mooted, and anyhow money has been tight, besides which other countries have been accepted without one. In any case it's the results and the quality of the players that matter, and on both counts Ireland passes muster. It's high time Irish victories over supposedly superior opponents were not regarded as flukes. The World Cup win over Pakistan was merely an upset. Grizzling England were nearly held after the Ashes, and never mind that Ireland had been denied the services of its best players. Incredibly, English reporters dared to point out that the Irish were captained by an Australian. Pots and kettles! Anyhow Trent Johnston long ago committed himself to the Irish cause.

Nor is it right to focus only on the three most recognisable Irish cricketers, the trio called up by England in recent times. Ben Stinga, a student of the wider game across the world, has produced a list of Irish cricketers capable of holding their own in any company. Here is the current squad with their List A career records.

Ireland players in List A cricket
Player Matches Runs HS Ave 100s 50s Wkts Runs Best Ave Econ
William Porterfield † 80 2625 112* 35 4 15
Jeremy Bray 45 962 116 22.37 2 4
Reinhardt Strydom 22 301 49 16.72 0 0 1 139 1-63 139 6.3
Paul Stirling †* 20 426 84 22.42 0 4
Andrew Botha 83 1188 139 20.13 1 4 82 2295 4-19 27.98 4.6
Niall O'Brien † 106 2023 95 27.33 0 14
James Hall * 4 63 27 15.75 0 0 1 22 1-22 22 4.1
Andrew Poynter * 11 105 29 11.66 0 0
Kevin O'Brien † 74 1728 142 30.31 2 8 28 1691 4-31 44.50 5.4
Gary Wilson †* 56 976 61 20.76 0 7
John Mooney 32 416 42 18.90 0 0 20 800 4-43 40 5.9
Andrew White 75 1128 71* 21.28 0 4 32 1060 4-22 33.12 4.7
Andrew White 75 1128 71* 21.28 0 4 32 1060 4-22 33.12 4.7
Trent Johnston ø 62 800 67 20.51 0 2 61 2014 5-14 33.01 4.5
Fintan McAllister * 4 26 13* 13.00 0 0
Alex Cusack ø 38 464 41 22.09 0 0 35 901 3-15 25.74 4.4
Kyle McCallan 99 1299 53* 21.65 0 2 81 2909 4-30 35.91 4.1
Regan West 23 96 29* 13.71 0 0 25 701 5-26 28.04 3.9
Peter Connell 23 58 22* 19.33 0 0 35 916 5-19 26.17 5.2
Gary Kidd * 14 37 15 5.28 0 0 10 433 3-32 43.30 4.2
Boyd Rankin † 41 34 9 6.80 0 0 50 1352 3-32 27.04 4.9
Phil Eaglestone 9 8 4 2.66 0 0 8 258 2-49 32.25 5.4
Andrew Britton * 1 0 0 0 0 37 6.11
Greg Thompson * 4 2 2 0.66 0 0 2 75 1-2 37.50 5.3
Eoin Morgan †* 111 3195 161 35.50 4 20
Ed Joyce † 184 5698 146 36.52 7 37
Graeme McCarter †* 0
Stuart Poynter †* 0
James Shannon †* 0
Andrew Balbirnie †* 0
Ben Ackland †* 0
Chris Dougherty †* 0
Shane Getkate †* 0
George Dockrell 0
Eddie Richardson 0
Nigel Jones 0
Allen Coulter 0
Ryan Haire 2 56 54 28 0 1
Kenny Carroll 10 131 28 13.10 0 0
Thinus Fourie 17 132 30 16.50 0 0 12 479 3-41 39.91 4.4

Players with English counties, county academies or (in the case of Chris Dougherty) a first-class university; * Developing younger players in the squad or those on the verge; ø Contracted full-time with Cricket Ireland

Obviously Ireland will struggle to compete with India in Bangalore or Australia in Perth, but they are hardly alone in that. They are competitive in soccer and rugby, and given a chance, will rise in cricket. In any case the time has come for the game to spread its wings. Before long Ireland, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Holland, Afghanistan, Tanzania and Uganda ought to be competing for places in a second division playing four- or five-day Test cricket. Scotland and Kenya have fallen back, Canada has lost its main sponsor and the USA has been bedevilled by infighting, but the best-laid plans and so on... And the top teams in the second rung could then hope to fulfill their dreams by playing Test cricket at Lord's or Eden Gardens or the MCG. What exactly is there to lose?

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

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Posted by NSUrockr on (November 9, 2009, 0:05 GMT)

until 2003 Bd and Kenya were considered equal teams. But since 2006 (when Bd got the opportunity to meet them) theyve proved the difference by winning all 7 ODI's ince then. Winning the last 8 outta 10 proves that Bangladesh has created the difference with Zimbabwe by today. No we just have to wait till Bangladesh surpasses the once mighty West Indies and then New Zealand. If u look at the ODI ranking table u will observe that teams like Zimbabwe, Kenya or Ireland have about 25 points (more or less). But Bangladesh has more than twice that (55 or so). Teams like India have 120 or so. But West Indies have 75 or so. By 2011 Bangladesh and West Indies will be on equal footing. Notwithstanding my support for Ireland Test status they will also take atleast 10 years before they reach the level of Bangladesh today. and by 2015 (by the time Ashraful retires) Bangladesh will become a major contender for the world cup. so dont act surprised when uc Ireland losing their first 30tests by an inngs

Posted by NSUrockr on (November 8, 2009, 23:42 GMT)

Bangladesh have won the last 8 of 10 ODI's against Zimbabwe. and since 2006 have won 24 outof 34.bowled out Zim within 44 runs just recently.so Nipun i dont find what kind of kick ur tryin 2 get by undermining Bd against Zim. Bcak in 2005 Zim lost their best players which they developed for 10 plus years. Guess what they fell rock bottom and turned vulnerable against lowly Bangladesh. Zimbabwe pulled itself outta Tests because they knew they had no backup players. Very natural when u only have 8-10 players from 5-6 families playing a game that 95% were not a part of. Tough luck for them. But todays Zimbabwe is the best team they could have in 2009. Theres no more Flowers or Streaks or Strangs. (Streak is currently one of the coaches)So tht is what u mean by a pool of players. On the other hand even after the ICL setback where 14 players left (out of which 9 were in the national side) Bd still beat New Zealand and performed no worse than they would have.

Posted by Nipun on (November 8, 2009, 16:35 GMT)

There have been so many comments expressing that Bangladesh deserved the test status.Reasons?Although Bangladesh's performance in the field was below below-par before being awarded the test status,Bangladesh have the population,sponsors,domestic infrastructure(now this is the biggest joke that you can ever hear,even God will say lol).OK,here's one perfect example given by the famous cricket writer Mr.Guha:-"The number of people obsessed with football in India will easily exceed the entire population of Bangladesh.Does that mean India should be given a direct entry to FIFA World Cups?Try selling that one to FIFA!" mirfan2001,rezaul,you guys can counter this?

Posted by Nipun on (November 8, 2009, 16:29 GMT)

@mirfan2001:-Performance in the field is the chiefmost criteria.You do not get good marks for a marketing presentation if you have excellent dress-ups but no knowledge of the product you are trying to sell.Since being awarded the test status,Bangladesh have defeated India & Sri Lanka 2 times,Australia,NewZealand,SA,Zimbabwe(real Zimbabwe) from 2000 to 2009 in 9 years.That's test class for you?Unfortunately,that's not test class according to most of the people in the cricketing arena,including seasoned cricket experts.How many tests have Bangladesh drawn without assistance of rain?1.How many tests have Bangladesh won against teams which were not depleted by the loss of key players?ZERO.How many innings defeats have Bangladesh suffered?PLENTY.How many Bangladeshi batsmen have a test average of 30?1,& that too,just.How many Bangladeshi bowlers average 3 wickets a test?1,& that too,just.

Posted by Nipun on (November 8, 2009, 11:14 GMT)

@Rezaul:-I thought you would have been ashamed by the fact Bangladesh, a "TEST" team for close to 10 years now,still loses at least a match every series to Zimbabwe,who have not played test cricket since 2005 & have played only 7/8 ODIs a year till then,& that too mostly against the likes of Bermuda,Netherlands,Kenya,etc.Don't argue here with what I've said.Go to cricinfo statsguru & see it yourselves. Here's a stat:-since 1 January 2006,Bangladesh has defeated Zimbabwe in 21 ODIs & lost in 8 ODIs,& by the end of 2005,Zimbabwe was a broken team,with Bangladesh being a 6 year old test nation with all its players available.In 2009,Bangladesh has defeated Zimbabwe 10 times & lost 4 times !!!

Posted by Nipun on (November 8, 2009, 11:04 GMT)

@Rezaul:-& Please stop uttering your pointless claims that Bangladesh has a pool of quality players.None of the current Bangladeshi batsmen have a test average of 25+,apart from Sakib Al Hasan who probably averages 30 or below.Apart from Sakib,no other Bangladeshi bowlers have records of even 3 wickets a test,like 60 wickets from 20 tests,which means 3 wickets a test.Bangladesh is probably one of the poorest fielding sides ever.So what do you mean Bangladesh has a pool of quality players?Maybe you are used to watch the Argentina Cricket Leagues & stuff so you think this is quality.But I assure you it is not.Look around,watch proper cricket between proper test teams.

Posted by Nipun on (November 8, 2009, 10:59 GMT)

@Rezaul:-OK,you fear that Ireland will struggle if the non-Irish players depart from Ireland.I assume it'll be the opposite.If Ireland is awarded the test status,many English players,who may not play for England,may get a chance to play for Ireland.This will boost Ireland.Plus,the fact that the Irish players play county cricket in England means they are quite well prepared.What does Bangladesh bring to the test arena?What HAS Bangladesh brought to the test arena?Despair.Yes,you may talk about the odd decent test performance here & there,but that is not what's expected @ the test level.This is the ultimate cricket arena.I have told VALID STATISTICAL POINTS.Please reply only if you have valid statistical arguments,not plain emotion.The games of Bangladesh-Ireland were over after one innings?It only happened in the 3rd ODI,where Bangladesh slogged to 293.You can check out the scores in cricinfo.I assume you didn't watch any of the games.

Posted by Rezaul on (November 8, 2009, 5:01 GMT)

@Nipun, the games in Bangladesh were over after 1st innings. But the games Bang lost to IRE in T20 and world cup were closely fought. You told Bangladesh still loses to Zim in every series. I think you dont even follow the result. Bangladesh thrashed Zim by 4-1 in last two series, even Zim was all out for 44 in one game. I feel shame to talk about the people who even dont follow the result.

Now, talk about IRE, if aussie and south african players (Bray,Johnston,Botha etc)did not played for ireland. Ireland couldn't have been qualified for the world cup. With only homegrown irishman, Ireland might struggle against Bermuda. I can bet you, in next world cup IRE will fight for last place with Neth in the group B, forget about any upset. <Arzoo-USA>

Posted by Rezaul on (November 8, 2009, 4:43 GMT)

@Nipun, you have lost your basic sense. I dont know which nationality you are. But I have reasonable doubt about your honesty. So you meant Pak lost to Bangladesh intentionally? I guess you were in Pak dressing room that time otherwise how would you know this secret which is unknown to the whole world. You are insulting a team's integrity and nationality. Still I remember, the hard fight by Pakistani batters and Wasim Akram. The consecutive bouncers to Akram by the little man Mahmud is still giving me the charm. Its a shame for the people to call this match like that.

Again my ICL point was taken wong. All I meant is 18 Pakistan, 14 Bangladesh & 7 Newzealand players were taken by ICL and still they played quality cricket with new look team. Its because they have a pool of quality players. Thats where IRELAND is decades back. They are shouting of loosing couple of average player, forget about loosing the full team. I can see IRE will struggle to even compete single match next world cup

Posted by dulabari on (November 8, 2009, 0:13 GMT)

I personally like idea of giving Test status to Ireland. But if you compare BD, Kenya, or Ireland, Bangladesh had some advantages: - Bacause it was a part of a test palying country(pakistan) for about 25 years it already had the Test cricket culture. There were several erstwhile East Pakistani who played Test cricket (eg. Niaz Muhammad). Dhaka was the venu for a number of Test matches. The people there always has a passion for cricket. You will find 20 thousand people in the stadium. Millions of people wathing cricket on TV.

- There are huge Bangladeshi community in England, Australia, Dubai and other places. So from commercial poiny of view it was a plus.

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Peter RoebuckClose
Peter Roebuck He may not have played Test cricket for England, but Peter Roebuck represented Somerset with distinction, making over 1000 runs nine times in 12 seasons, and captaining the county during a tempestuous period in the 1980s. Roebuck acquired recognition all over the cricket world for his distinctive, perceptive, independent writing. Widely travelled, he divided his time between Australia and South Africa. He died in November 2011

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