September 19, 2000

Irish experience points to the future for Rutherford

Ken Rutherford has ended his first season as Ireland's national cricket coach believing his new charges are getting better but knowing much work lies ahead.

The former New Zealand and Otago captain is holidaying in Central Otago at the moment before heading back to South Africa where he will take up the position as Gauteng cricket director.

Ireland wants to qualify for the next World Cup as one of three nations from the ICC Trophy tournament to join the 11 nations who qualify as of right. Bangladesh and Kenya now have automatic entry into the event.

Rutherford's role is not merely coaching the national side. He's responsible for putting structures in place for the longer term benefit of the game in Ireland.

"But I think the process will take longer than they think," he told CricInfo.

"My job is more that just standing the nets. It is an aspect of cricket I am looking to forward myself in," he said.

When heading back to Gauteng he will be responsible for helping the coaches in the region.

The Irish meanwhile, are looking for a niche improvement in the sides they currently have. They want to qualify for the next World Cup and the extra funding they could gain. That would put them in a position to get even better again.

To do that they need to be one of the top three qualifiers at next year's ICC Trophy tournament in Toronto, the last one of its type being played. Rutherford believes that is possible.

Rutherford was impressed with the group of emerging young players in Ireland but said while cricket has been played there as long as it has been in England, it has not developed at the same speed.

Cricket is played in four leagues, one each for the country's provinces, but for a country with a playing population not much below that of New Zealand, a problem was that there were too many teams playing at club level.

This reduces the quality of the cricket as talent players are dispersed among too many teams.

"There are huge traditions in their game there and it is difficult for them to look at the bigger picture. It is something they will have to look at changing themselves," he said.

Rutherford said it would be unfair of him to insist on changes when his contract could finish at the end of next year.

"If I was committed for a longer period of time it might be different," he said.

"Deep down they know it has to be done. If they want to do well at Toronto they need to have some real competition and to prepare in that way," he said.

Development was also hampered by the relatively short summer in Ireland. It lasted only three and a half to four months, there were no good outdoor nets and there were no indoor facilities for practice.

Rutherford has enjoyed the Irish experience saying he had been made very welcome there while his passion for horseracing was well looked after.

There was no huge cultural change to be experienced as he found Irish life very similar to that he was used to in Dunedin.

But the prospect of living life in six-month rotations, six in Ireland and six in South Africa, is losing its appeal and with a young family now, Rutherford was prepared to admit the life on the road could be drawing to a close for him.