England v Ireland, Group D, World Twenty20, Providence May 4, 2010

Ireland face battle to retain star players


William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, knows his country faces a challenge to prevent further players qualifying for England in search of Test match honours, but hopes that Full Member status will come Ireland's way in the near future. Eoin Morgan, who debuted for his adopted country in 2009, top-scored against his former team-mates and is the prime example of the talent that is lost to Irish cricket but the board is pushing hard for an elevation in status.

Once a player reaches a level where they feel international honours - and especially Test cricket - is a realistic aim, currently the only choice for them is to wear the three lions. Morgan followed in the footsteps of Ed Joyce, who played against Ireland at the 2007 World Cup while Morgan was still wearing green and is now considering switching back, but with Boyd Rankin selected for the ECB's fast-bowling programme during the winter the selectors clearly have eyes on others as well.

"To progress as a nation we are going to have to hold on to our bigger players," Porterfield, who himself plays for Gloucestershire, said. "It's not going to be easy because we can't offer them Test cricket. It's great to see the Irish cricketers coming through and that they have that drive to go on and play Tests."

Cricket Ireland, led by the CEO Warren Deutrom, are not actively seeking Test status immediately - although longer-term that is an ambition - but an alternative Full Member ranking that would create more opportunities to play the stronger teams and also boost funding, in turn helping to develop the game in Ireland and bring through more young players.

"It's unfortunate we can't offer them that at the minute but hopefully we'll have that status in years to come or get on the Future Tours Programme and to get more one-dayers and Twenty20s against the bigger teams," Porterfield said. "If we can get to that stage, and perform consistently, then I think they have to look at Ireland as a serious contender to get to that stage.

"It's not going to happen overnight, there are massive steps to take, and ideally we could hold on to these players but we aren't going to hold them back if the opportunity arises to play Test cricket."

Joyce's potential return to Irish ranks would certainly strengthen their side, and it's the batting that was the major problem at the World Twenty20 as they subsided to 68 against West Indies. But for him to compete in the 2011 World Cup he will need special dispensation from the ICC, because he would be two months short of the four-year gap since his last England appearance. In terms of competitiveness there is no argument that it would be counter-productive not to approve it.

Hamish Marshall, the former New Zealand batsman, also wants to take advantage of his Irish roots by resuming international cricket with them but he too only qualifies in April 2011. For now, Ireland are faced with the prospect of more players taking up county deals and potentially attracting the attention of the England selectors. A major problem, and one that would have to change before Test cricket became a realistic option, is the lack of a first-class structure in Ireland.

Rankin is currently with Warwickshire, Paul Stirling, the opening batsman, has a Middlesex contract, Niall O'Brien plays for Northamptonshire and Kevin O'Brien has appeared for Nottinghamshire. None of those are in the same class as Morgan, but the one man (or boy) who has really caught the eye during the last week in Guyana has been George Dockrell, the 17-year-old left-arm spinner, who followed 3 for 16 against West Indies with four economical overs against England.

"I think that's credit to ourselves as well because if you'd asked me five months who our next spinner was going to be I wouldn't have been able to tell you," Porterfield said. "After we lost Kyle McCallan and Regan West we didn't really have a spinner there. George was thrown in at the deep end after the Under-19 World Cup and in the qualifiers for this in Dubai he came up trumps. He bowled fantastically well there and has carried that forward to here against two great teams. He can go on to big things as well."

Whether those big things are for England or Ireland the next few years will decide.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ricardo on May 11, 2010, 0:27 GMT

    this problem was bound to happen once you had a split between associates and test nations. the shorter formatt of the game hasy get been encourged to increase numbers and participants, but the first class game is distinguished from the one-day game. so what happens when ireland start putting together a team to move up the ladder? they get fast tracked into ODI & T20 tournaments, obviously to generate income/home interest - with no real ICC support to develop first class cricket. they are still pidgeon holed as an associate. this allows england to pinch their best. if all nations were allowed to develop a domestic 3 day cricket, this wouldn't happen. at least teams could make the jump to test cricket easier, than at present. imagine if FIFA divised a soccer world cup as a 5 a side tournament only???? we would all say they are daft. encourage multi day cricket in associates, then they could play test matches and go for test status - thus solving ireland' s problem

  • james on May 6, 2010, 19:11 GMT

    i agree middlepeg,if irish players are good enuf to play test cricket i have no qualms with them switching alliegences & yes the english counties enhance our player's talents no end.To claim that these irishmen are homegrown is a little foolhardy as their formative yrs (10 - 20) in learning the game are spent with & in ire.Also I think this dependence wil lessen a little,with cricket ireland now offering full-time contracts to 6 players; and an eg of this bearing fruit is d improvement of K. O'Brien's bowling,he seems to have added a few more mph recently. Lastly the strides taken in the last 10yrs have been massive with so mnay young guys comin through. Although still a minority sport, it is now firmly seated behind GAA, rugby n soccer in terms of popularity among team sports, and recieves a grt deal more media coverage in d last 5yrs.So the future looks bright...remember rugby in the 80's was only feverently followed by the middle class,but ireland's success has brought mass followin

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2010, 18:04 GMT

    Good article - the ICC should introduce some sort of code saying once you've represented one country you cannot represent another - this will help countries like Ireland help retain their talent. Mohammed3285 - are you implying england should field an all 'white' team?? If you are then you gotta get real, if you ever come to england you'll find that due to immigration etc. after the war, a lot of asians and jamacans came over to work in england and had chilldren, who have grown up as english, and now want to represent england because this is their nationalality - the notion of being indian/pakistani is only the colour of their skin. So if we ever get a player of say polish origin born and brought up in the UK, should we not play him?? If this happened I doubt you'd actually question it based on your views of what type of person should play for england...

  • mohammed on May 6, 2010, 14:51 GMT

    england team should really now be called "Rest of the world XI" only few players of english origin....lots of south african,indian,pakistani,irish and sri lankan blood playing under the team name ENGLAND

  • nasir on May 6, 2010, 12:27 GMT

    It is a shame that the country who invented country have to look at players who are not english to boost their competitiveness internationally.

  • Ronan on May 6, 2010, 11:42 GMT

    zoraster: Ireland are not in any English county competitions.

  • Sumeet on May 6, 2010, 10:07 GMT

    Cant the English come up with their own cricketers? they need South Africans, Indians, Pakistanis and now the Irish to help them win. What next? a few Aussies maybe?

  • Ronan on May 6, 2010, 8:59 GMT

    "well they can't be true Irishmen if they want to play for England."

    Rubbish. I dont think they want to play for England. They want to play test cricket. Given that most of these lads have devoted their entire lives to playing cricket, I don't think anyone would/should begrudge them the oppurtunity to play atthe highest level, irrespective of the history between the two countries. I think Englands treatment of Joyce was appalling, and foolish, given the season he had last year and i look forward to some rule changes to stop players like joyce being left in the wilderness after they are cast aside by England.

  • B on May 6, 2010, 8:28 GMT

    I don't think you can blame England for having a look at any half decent Irish players. To a very large extent they can claim many of the Irish players to be 'home grown': without county contracts the skills required to achieve their potential in the pro game would never be fully developed. I don't think you can blame any member of the Irish team for wanting to further their careers by playing for a Test nation either. The truth of the matter is that cricket in Ireland, whilst followed enthusiastically by some, is still very much a minority sport. We just have to accept that we need to be patient. Look how far we've come in the last 10 years. We're laying a strong foundation for the future whatever way you look at it.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2010, 8:25 GMT

    When players play for the same team for a long time they get grooved in and perform for the team. ECB isn't doing the right job by grabbing up players from Ireland for their need. ECB has a well developed system of so many number of counties with 15-25 players directly contracted to them but still they can't find talents from there.

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