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

Boyd Rankin bowls, Canada v Ireland, World Cup Qualifier final, Centurion, April 19, 2009

Boyd Rankin is already in the sights of the England selectors, having been chosen for the ECB's fast-bowling programme  •  Gallo Images

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