Ireland in West Indies 2014 February 17, 2014

Ireland hope for Jamaica re-run

Cricket Ireland have a stated aim of reaching Test cricket by 2020. Such has been their success that they may be able to bring that target forward, but series like the one in West Indies have to be about more than just taking part

A little over two years ago Warren Deutrom, the Cricket Ireland chief executive, and coach Phil Simmons sat at the top of a conference room in a Dublin hotel. Trent Johnston and Kevin O'Brien, two of Ireland's most venerable players, were also on hand and they had swapped their usual logo-ridden training apparel for formal attire.

An ambitious vision for the future of the sport was revealed and the gravity of the occasion was palpable: 2020 was the year set for it all to come to head, and the date earmarked as the denouement of their grand and unfaltering development. It was a bold but venturesome masterplan that accentuated Ireland's purposeful bid to advance to the next level.

What has transpired since, however, has failed to take heed of that manifesto. Cricket Ireland have trumped their own ambitious objectives to the extent that the strategic plan has all but become obsolete. They find themselves almost a year in advance of the script and exceeding expectations at every juncture: the sport is reaching unprecedented popularity and participation levels with grassroot figures doubling in the past two years, while the domestic structure is getting close to first-class level in an aim to ensure a production line of talent.

Everything appears to be clicking into place and now the final piece of the jigsaw - the Test match holy grail - is configuring itself into the puzzle, albeit a two thousand piece one. For Ireland, it is almost too good to be true. The foundations have been rigidly laid in such a short space of time. They have truly outgrown their Associate status - both on and off the field - and are patiently waiting to break through the glass ceiling.

The substructure is also in situ. Twenty-four players have been handed two-year contracts while the addition of a troupe of backroom staff, which has become a staple part of a successful side in the modern era, have all been made possible by supplementary revenue streams. The results and second-tier domination reflects the swelling levels of professionalism but with increased stature comes expectation and the pressure to vindicate their credentials for ascension.

Ultimately, the three game limited-overs series against West Indies is preparation for next month's World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, but in essence the following ten days is the dawn of the next chapter. As Ed Joyce put it so succinctly last week, qualifying for tournaments is no longer enough for Ireland. Although an overseas tour, such as the one they are currently on, is indicative of their burgeoning repute, William Porterfield and his team-mates have to do more than just provide the opposition.

Their sojourn in Trinidad, for the Nagico Super50, may suggest they are not quite equipped to bridge the gap on a consistent basis just yet but that would be jumping to conclusions. Yes, they were like rabbits caught in headlights, unprepared after a seven-week hiatus and unable to adapt to Caribbean conditions, but for Ireland participation in the tournament was part of a long-term programme.

Having gone down without a fight to Guyana and then Jamaica, victory in their final fixture against Windward Islands - instigated by sharp fielding and nagging bowling - meant that winning feeling was restored was restored before proceeding to Sabina Park for the business end of the tour.

They have fond memories of Kingston. It was there, seven years ago, that victory over Pakistan endeared Ireland to the international cricketing community, providing the catalyst for this vast evolution. It will be a full circle of sorts when they step out onto the Sabina Park turf come Wednesday afternoon. They were a bunch of amateurs and minnows that day but times have changed since then. Irish cricket has changed.

Facing the World Twenty20 holders, on their own patch, in the first game of their home international season, is a thorough appraisal of the tourists' credentials but it is where they want to be, the standard they aspire to reaching.

"The West Indies are obviously the Twenty20 side, their record speaks for itself," Porterfield said with respect rather than trepidation.

"They are a very good Twenty20 side. But we know we can do it and I think we've got to focus on that. We played some very good Twenty20 Cricket in the qualifiers for the World Cup in November, so we've got to take from those positives and keep improving, and taking the things that we did well in those games, into games against the top eight sides, or top ten sides, the Test Teams as such."

There is no scepticism surrounding Ireland's ability to give superiorly ranked opposition a run for their money - they have shown that on countless occasions before - but they have not beaten a full member since September 2012. That came against Bangladesh at the World Twenty20 in Colombo.

"We're obviously going into these games wanting to get wins out of them. There's no point in playing cricket if you don't want to go out there and win," Porterfield said. "If we put everything in on the pitch, and at the end of the day they come out on top, then that's fair enough. But if we are at the top of our game, and playing the way we want to play, then that's all we can ask for from the lads."

It has become clear that Ireland have widened the gap between themselves and their adversaries but this is a different ball game. The gulf in class between the game's top sides and Ireland's regular Associate opponents is vast and it is now up to them to ensure that gap is bridged before they can class their strategic plan as successful.

For now, however, the focus remains firmly on the next few months and the task in hand. All Simmons and his side can do is continue to advance themselves on the pitch and the rest has to be left to those who regularly wear the suits and sit in the boardrooms. The hard work starts this week at the scene of their most acclaimed heist.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on February 20, 2014, 10:11 GMT

    And they ended up winning the first one. so this article was somewhat prophetic. Go Ireland I look forward to South Africa playing test cricket against you.

  • Jonah58 on February 19, 2014, 22:18 GMT

    @Warm_Coffee what's misleading about the fact that Ireland's last win over a full member was beating Bangladesh in Colombo in Sept 2012. Its a fact its in the record books. And yes it was a one off, or is that 2 off seeing Bangladesh have been beaten twice by Ireland between the more regular defeats to them. Today's victory against a far stronger and much higher ranked team is just another step on Ireland's upward path. But I fear the WI will be out for revenge in the next two games.

  • Irelandcricketfan on February 19, 2014, 22:10 GMT

    Good work lads. Did exactly what we needed to. Good to see Poynter contributing so well. Would have won it at a canter if Stirling came off. And he will at some point in the next two games. Good mix of experience and youth bodes well for the future.

  • dummy4fb on February 19, 2014, 18:54 GMT

    Edd - good point. I do think if Ireland apply for Full Test Status, they also apply for a one off exemption for players such as Morgan and Rankin to be allowed to come back without waiting 4 years - on the basis that when they went to play for another country, it was because Ireland was not a full international side. Maybe give them a one year window from the date of Ireland's first test, in order to honour central contacts.

  • dummy4fb on February 19, 2014, 14:40 GMT

    What are the chances of Boyd Rankin ever playing test cricket for England again? Slim to nothing I'd say. He'd be better off going back to play for Ireland, helping them win the next Intercontinental Cup and then beating Zimbabwe or Bangladesh and getting test status, within the next few years.

  • Warm_Coffee on February 18, 2014, 0:49 GMT

    "but they have not beaten a full member since September 2012. That came against Bangladesh at the World Twenty20 in Colombo"??? - lol that was a warm-up game. Prior to that, Ireland got whitewashed by Bangladesh IN Ireland in summer of 2012 3-0. Misleading stuff :)

  • dummy4fb on February 17, 2014, 22:33 GMT

    I have more hope than expectation this time around .... Trents retirement has left a huge hole. Mooneys absence a strange combination of good and bad news - sad for him dealing with an all too common problem in cricket these days, but the root of the problem was caused by the number and duration of Irish tours - an indication of our growing professionalism. Truth to tell I would settle for respectable fighting defeats in the upcoming 3 games and target SI for a win at home in May on a seaming greentop!

  • android_user on February 17, 2014, 19:30 GMT

    all the best for the series. wish Ireland will do well here and Bangladesh. But they need to build a A team with talents like Shannon poynter and give them a go against a strong side like Scots or Netherlands. this team is aging and make a strong plan to build a new one. cricket Ireland are doing well they are pushing new players but I think they need more player at least a 30 player talent pool who can step up at national level at near future. Best wishes to you.

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