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No Irish first-class cricket will be played for a second consecutive season, after Cricket Ireland announced a revamped inter-provincial structure for 2021.
The Inter-Provincial Championship, the Irish domestic multi-day competition, has had first-class status since the 2017 season, paving the way for Ireland to become a full member of the ICC, but the tournament was not staged last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and will not be held in 2021 as Ireland focus their efforts on limited-overs cricket.
Ireland have not played a Test match since July 2019, when they threatened to cause an upset against England at Lord's, and are not due to play another until December, when they have a one-off fixture scheduled against Sri Lanka. Their 'A' side, the Ireland Wolves, will play a four-day game in Bangladesh later this month, but further red-ball development opportunities will continue to be limited.
"With regards to the red-ball format, with no summer Test scheduled in 2021, Cricket Ireland has prioritised white-ball cricket due to there being three white-ball World Cups over the next three years," a statement said. "However, [we] will be exploring ways to reintroduce the Inter-Provincial Championship when both the pandemic and consequential financial situation permits."
After Leinster Lightning's domination of the inter-provincial tournaments since their introduction in 2013, Cricket Ireland has overhauled the domestic system to maximise the possibility of "best v best" competition.
Previously, talent has been concentrated in Leinster to the extent that players on the fringes of the national set-up have struggled to make their XI, while the other teams - North West Warriors, Northern Knights and, in T20, Munster Reds - have not competed at the same standard.
Under the new system, Graham Ford and Andrew White - the national team's head coach and chair of selectors respectively - will be involved in selecting core squads, rather than provincial union coaches and selectors. "The selectors will adopt a selection policy that, as far as possible, balances the need to strength the tournament via best v best against ensuring the strength of provincial union identity," the statement said.
A new loan system will also be introduced in 2021 to make squads more flexible, while the Munster Reds will also compete in the 50-over competition, though their coaching hub will be based in Dublin with guidance from Cricket Ireland.
The 50-over competition will be played in a double-round-robin series, with each team playing six games in total, while the T20 tournament will be played as a series of three-day festivals. The season will run from May to September, and a new emerging team competition will also be staged.
"It is widely acknowledged that more cricket is needed and there is a burning desire for more rounds of both white-ball formats to be played, as well as eventually returning to red-ball three- or four-day first class cricket," said Richard Holdsworth, Cricket Ireland's high performance director.
"This is an exciting day for domestic representative cricket across Ireland, as we start to move forward with some substantial reforms to the men's game. A viable and sustainable inter-provincial structure feeding talent into the international set-up is crucial for the competitiveness of our senior side on the world stage."
"The 'best v best' philosophy seeks to ensure we don't have a host of talented players sitting on the sidelines, and that they are getting proper competitive cricket. Balancing this with the need to maintain a sense of regional identity was an important piece of these improvements - and will be one of the main components of ensuring that regional coaches are working closely with national coaches."
Ireland are due to play men's international fixtures against Pakistan, South Africa and Zimbabwe in their home 2021 season, as well as a three-match World Cup Super League series in the Netherlands. They were beaten 3-0 by Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi this month, having drawn 1-1 with the UAE immediately before.