Cricket Ireland has stressed the need for greater central funding from the ICC and more context for their Test cricket, while launching its strategic plan for 2021-23.
Ireland have not played a Test since July 2019, when they bowled England out for 85 at Lord's, and they will not play another until 2022 at the earliest, following a further postponement to their fixture away in Sri Lanka. They have prioritised white-ball cricket ahead of the three upcoming World Cups - two T20I, one ODI - and the inter-provincial system will not feature any first-class fixtures this summer.
Ahead of the publication of the new strategic plan - which aims to "strengthen our sport so that we are in a position to benefit and grow when the new ICC funding cycle begins" - Richard Holdsworth, CI performance director, emphasised the significant costs involved in staging Test cricket and the lack of context outside of the World Test Championship as the main reasons for Ireland's limited fixture list in the format.
"There's no doubt that we aspire to be a regular Test-playing nation - the board agrees, the coaches agree, and the players are desperate to play more Test cricket," he told ESPNcricinfo. "But we're prioritising white-ball cricket in this strategy because what is most important to the business is that we qualify for World Cups. In terms of funding, sponsorship, and commercial stakeholders, it's important that we're at the top table when it comes to World Cups.
"We don't want to neglect the red-ball game but the reality is that with the budget we'll have for the next three years, we have to prioritise in the right areas and we firmly believe that prioritising qualification for those three World Cups over the next three years is paramount, and we are continually challenged by the cost of hosting home Tests."
"I don't think it helps any of the three of us - Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe - to promote Test cricket without that context. It's just one-off Tests here and there"Richard Holdsworth
Ireland's inaugural - and so far only - home Test, against Pakistan in 2018, cost the board nearly €1m (US$ 1.18 million approx.) to stage, with the ground in Malahide requiring expensive temporary infrastructure to turn it into a major venue. The strategic plan includes a commitment to putting processes in place for the stadium at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, three years after the board voted for its development, to be ready.
CI is also encouraging the ICC to reduce the minimum broadcast standards required to stage Tests, and is discussing the possibility of a second tier of the World Test Championship to guarantee them more regular fixtures 2023 onwards.
"Before we became full members, we were playing our part in putting the Future Tours Programme together and everything that was being discussed was "context, context, context"," Holdsworth said. "But coming back to Test cricket, we were talking about context in everything - but Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe are playing Test cricket without any context at all.
"We've been communicating with the ICC and we believe that whatever that first division looks like, there needs to be some context for the next division down. I don't think it helps any of the three of us to promote Test cricket without that context. It's just one-off Tests here and there.
"It's good to see the ICC's board taking that seriously. If we don't promote the three of us playing Test cricket then we're down to nine teams, and where does that go? If there are only four or five Test teams in ten years' time, that'd be disastrous for the sport. We can't let that happen. We have to make sure there is competitive Test cricket out there. Let's hope we get some context in the next cycle and we can allow for two divisions."
The strategic plan highlights five priorities: qualification for all ICC tournaments, increasing participation at grassroots levels, establishing infrastructure and facilities required of a full member, growing the women's game, and supporting the continuing development of the provincial unions.
Warren Deutrom, CI chief executive, said: "How certain of success can we be with this plan? Just consider the journey and achievements over the last decade - consider that we are now one of only 12 countries seated at the top table of the world's second largest sport. Consider, too, the immense strength and depth of Irish cricketing heritage and structures within our sport.
"We have an innate belief in the ability of the Irish cricket community to endure, to adapt and to grow. We want Ireland to become a cricket island once more. And I hope the Irish cricket community can work with us on creating an increasingly vibrant, engaging and welcoming sport for all."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98