June 22, 2001

Rutherford heads for Toronto on the hunt for a World Cup place

Former New Zealand Test captain Ken Rutherford heads to Toronto on Sunday, with the Ireland team he has been coaching for the last two years, looking to gain a place in the 2003 World Cup.

It is a tall order for the both Rutherford and the second seeded Irish. They have the enthusiasm but when they fly out to Canada it will be the first time this season the side has been together.

Rutherford said that despite a brief tour to England it had been difficult to blend the team as well as he would have liked.

"But I believe we are as well prepared as we can be for the tournament," he said.

Rutherford said the side was enthusiastic and he rated that as its greatest strength.

"We have a few younger guys and they are just dead keen to get to Toronto and do the business. Hopefully, our ability to be a 'team' will also be a strength. This feeling should develop as the tournament progresses," he said.

Ireland, who go into the tournament with second seeding are in group B of division one along with Denmark, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Papua New Guinea and the United States.

Sides in group A of division one are: Scotland, the Netherlands, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Fiji and Singapore.

Other teams in division two are: Group A, Namibia, West Africa, Gibraltar, Italy, Nepal, Germany; Group B, Malaysia, East and Central Africa, Argentina, Israel, France, Uganda.

Teams in each group of each division play each other once. In division one, the top three teams automatically qualify for the super league while the fourth teams play the teams who won the two groups in the second division play off to make up the super leagues one and two.

The teams in super league one play the teams in super league two, having carried their points forward from games against the teams they have faced. The two top points scorers will play off for first and second while third and fourth on the points table will play off to decide who joins the first two teams at the 2003 World Cup.

While everyone keeps telling him that Ireland is favoured with a good draw, Rutherford does not share that view.

"I am less convinced as we don't really know the quality of teams such as the United States and Bermuda. From the other side of the draw Canada, with my former Otago team-mate Ian Billcliff involved, and the United Arab Emirates are two other unknown quantities.

"Our first match against the USA is a tough starter and this must rate as a really key match.

"I have heard a whisper that Hong Kong are a little better than most pundits think," he said.

Rutherford visited Toronto three weeks ago to check on the playing conditions but didn't really gain a true impression of what can be expected.

"The harsh winters that they experience left the wicket blocks looking less than pleasing to the eye.

"I am told by the UK groundsmen that are there that the pitches will be fine, nothing to worry about. We will have to wait and see if their assessment is correct," he said.

The tournament is seen as important to the future of Irish cricket. Qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa in 2003 would provide an impetus that could see some facilities established for the longer term benefit of the game.

"Within the cricket circles in Ireland there is a very definite anticipation of a positive result. What that impression is based on I'm not quite sure as results over the past two or three years haven't exactly been confidence building.

"However, there is a feeling that the team we have is ready to start returning on its potential and that, I guess, is at the heart of the confident attitude," he said.

"Ireland as a nation has such a love affair with the Gaelic Games that Toronto does not rate a mention. Hence the real interest in our performance is largely confined to the cricket enthusiasts."

Rutherford said he has enjoyed the experience of coaching in Ireland where those involved have been enthusiastic and keen.

"I do quite a bit of travelling around the island, something I have enjoyed, meeting heaps of folk on the way. The work itself is a tad frustrating. It is difficult to get the guys I want to train together often enough to make a real impact.

"The facilities to practise are neglibible. Most club grounds, which means about 95% of them, do not have decent net areas.

"And there is a real need for an indoor facility to train, something which could happen soon.

"The feeling here is that qualification for the 2003 World Cup could provide the motivation to make a few changes.

"Unfortunately, at present, most of the administrators of Irish Cricket see as far as their own clubs and the bigger picture takes a back seat," he said.

While he understands the need for the ICC to curtail the size of future tournaments, Rutherford would like to see some form of competition capable of allowing the lesser nations to improve.

"Perhaps a global league of the top six teams from Toronto could be set up with a yearly tournament somewhere.

"I believe we would get a lot of benefit from playing against the likes of the USA, Canada and the UAE on a regular basis as well as our Euro cousins," he said.