Couch Talk

'We are crying out for games against top teams'

Ireland captain William Porterfield talks about the rapid growth of cricket in the country and what the ICC should do to protect Associates' interests

Subash Jayaraman: What's your take on Ireland's performance in the 2015 World Cup?
William Porterfield: On reflection, we played very well. We were disappointed that we didn't qualify [for the quarter-finals], missing out on net run rate. We played some really good cricket consistently throughout, and the games that we lost were because we were beaten by the better team on that day.
SJ: You were putting on big scores, but it was the bowling that seemed to let you down and possibly prevented you from reaching the quarter-finals. It was quite puzzling from the outside, because coming into the tournament, Craig Young was doing quite well too.
WP: Our batters did do very well, on some very good pitches. We left ourselves a bit short in the last two games. It is easy to jump on the bowlers, but I think we left ourselves fewer runs short, especially against India. In the game against Pakistan, we lost a few too many wickets and left ourselves too much work to do at the back end to set up a very good total. We obviously know Pakistan - very good side, bowling especially at the death. We were disappointed that we didn't capitalise there as well, from a decent start.
SJ: What were your expectations going into the tournament?
WP: The thing we wanted to do was to get to the quarter-finals. That was well within our reach, given the way we played. From the outside, I am not sure whether many gave us that chance. There was the belief and the preparation was good individually. We brought all that together and put in big performances. In the game against West Indies, we put our performances together in all three aspects and had a comfortable win in the end.
SJ: The fact that that win wasn't called an upset by everybody only showed that people were paying attention to Ireland cricket.
WP: Yes, very much so. We prepared for that, we prepared to beat that team and see some aspects come together in the first game of the tournament on a very good pitch. To restrict West Indies to what we did was a very good effort, probably par on that pitch. We went out and knocked the runs off with a lot of confidence and freedom. It epitomised everything we talked about before the build-up to the tournament. We spoke about starting the tournament with positive intent and not tip-toeing in. It was the most satisfying thing we have had, because we brought all three aspects together, and it wasn't a surprise at all for us.
SJ: What has been Phil Simmons' impact as coach over the last few years? What aspect of his coaching will you miss the most?
WP: His knowledge of the game, the way he looks at the game. He was a very talented cricketer himself. He just brings out that knowledge and experience from having played the game all over the world, and picks up on simple little things, should it be technique or how you go about playing the game. The guys have gotten results, not necessarily through technical aspects. There are things that you pick up and it makes a big difference within your game. I think that was his strength as a coach.
Whoever comes in knows that he has a big role to take on. Simmons has been there for eight years, a long time. There is going to be a big change, for the players as well. I hope that transition goes very smoothly and we're looking forward to getting a good coach and getting stuck in. It was great having Simmons here, but it gives him a great opportunity as well to coach his own country. It is a dream for him. Good luck to him as well.
SJ: On the ICC's stand on reducing the number of teams playing the 2019 World Cup, with a qualifying tournament for the last two spots - do you see that as a detrimental move?
WP: Yes, very much so. Obviously, if we didn't get that opportunity to qualify back in 2007, I don't think cricket would be where it is now in Ireland. It is the fastest growing sport in the country. You only have to go back home and take a look at what is happening in the game. We are in a position to move on.
So it is very frustrating, not only from our point of view but for anyone who had to qualify for a World Cup. Thankfully we have done for the last few years to get the ball rolling back home. The decision to reduce the teams is going to make it very difficult. The talk about giving yourself an opportunity to qualify automatically, that is fair, but we don't play enough games to qualify automatically.
SJ: Could you explain how difficult it is to go from No. 11 to No. 8 when you don't play regularly against the Full Member nations?
WP: We played nine ODIs against top-ten teams in the last four years between the World Cups, which is nothing. That is much less than what a top-ten nation would play. Even if we had won those nine games against the opposition, we wouldn't have finished eighth in the world. We have to play more games to get to that stage. Arranging fixtures is very difficult with teams that are around you in the rankings because they are also looking to playing teams above them, to move on. Obviously it is very difficult for the board to arrange the fixtures. So, anything that can be done to help us get through will be great. To actually finish eighth is not going to be difficult only for us but for anyone that is around us today.
"You have got a ranking system, I don't see why international teams have to be pigeonholed into different categories and names. I don't see why we have to be an Associate and someone else gets to be a Full Member"
SJ: Is it disappointing that it is the ECB that has driven that movement towards ten teams in the 2019 World Cup?
WP: Yes. We play England every other year in ODIs. They are just 40 minutes away by flight. We can play a lot more often. Teams tour England a lot. It would be ideal for them, even if not a triangular series, to play two or three ODIs against us before or after playing England. That could be worked into the schedule pretty easily. That could be a very viable option that can be explored. That is what we are crying out for. The public in Ireland are crying out for that as well, to see more cricket against the top-ten teams, especially in Ireland.
SJ: The ten-team World Cup could mean that you have already played your last World Cup for Ireland at 30.
WP: It is very frustrating. It is sad when you look at it like that. You look at various countries around the world, either playing or wanting an opportunity to qualify. From a personal point of view, and from an Irish point of view, that will be a very disappointing thing, especially in a World Cup so close to home in 2019. If we qualify for that we will sell out grounds and at least get 75-80% Irish to fill the stadium, especially when it is just across the waters. From a marketing point of view, it makes sense to have more teams, especially us being so close to England.
SJ: A question from Nicholas Sharland - the one who started the petition for the ICC to reverse the ten-team decision for the 2019 World Cup. He asks if you would support an Associate breakaway from the ICC to get cricket into the Olympics.
WP: That is an interesting one. Cricket in the Olympics has been talked about before, especially in the T20 format. That would be very good, potentially. If that were to happen, cricket would grow even more. In terms of a breakaway, I don't know if you want to be talking about that. You have to be talking about inclusion. The fact that there are Full Members, and Associates, and Affiliates - different names and structures - that could be one of the things that could be done away with. You have got a ranking system, I don't see why international teams around the world have to be pigeonholed into different categories and names. I don't see why we have to be an Associate and someone else gets to be a Full Member. I don't see why it exists really.
We have shown that we are moving on and breaking through, and we have been beating teams around us and teams above us. Look at the likes of Sri Lanka with players like [Kumar] Sangakkara and [Mahela] Jayawardene - what they said during the World Cup, that if they didn't get the opportunity when they did, Sri Lanka wouldn't have won the World Cup back then. I'm not saying that would be the case with us as well, but that shows what can be done, and we see it in all sports, not just cricket. If opportunities are given, then they do that. It is very frustrating that the ICC is reducing teams as opposed to growing the teams in the World Cup. Basically it would be another glorified Champions Trophy being played every two years.
SJ: Another listener, Srinath, asks if you were to make a choice between regular fixtures over four years with Full Member nations or a 14-team World Cup in 2019, which would you prefer?
WP: I don't see why it has to be a decision. Why can't it be both? If we get those regular fixtures, through four years, we are only going to improve. We are sure we will be able to beat them and show progression. It is not an unrealistic option, it is common sense.
SJ: There was a new proposal last year, which said that the winner of the Intercontinental Cup will play the lowest-ranked Test team, home and away. You could get to play Test cricket without the rights of a Test-playing nation as they exist, without any guarantee of an FTP on that as well. What is your take on that?
WP: I think it is great to have that pathway to Test cricket. There is still some difference between Test cricket and playing a lot more ODI cricket, and putting that structure back home. Test cricket is where everyone wants to be, what every cricketer aspires to play. A lot of things were done over the last year about Test cricket. We are on the pathway towards getting there. If the debate is whether we should be there as a Test member or not, over the next couple of years, we would be there or thereabouts. The pathway is pretty good. The only thing that bothers me is the fact that we don't play home and away fixtures, because there is so much riding on the competition, it is just round-robin, where you play at someone else's home. It could have been home and away, which would have provided more fair results. It is a great opportunity for whoever wins the Intercontinental Cup. That is something that we are targeting, it is something that we want to win and get an opportunity to play the tenth-ranked team - which is what every Ireland cricketer wants to do now. The pathway has been set now. Hopefully Ireland will be there and we will do well when there.
"Teams tour England a lot. It would be ideal for them, even if not a triangular series, to play two or three ODIs against us before or after playing England"
SJ: How would you describe Ireland's run in the last three World Cups? And, what has the impact of the so called golden generation of Irish cricketers - including you, Ed Joyce, Trent Johnston and the O'Brien brothers been - on the grassroots of Ireland cricket?
WP: If you look back, even to 2007, we were pretty much an amateur side with a few lads who were playing first-class cricket. They were few and far in-between, a lot of lads were nine-to-fives. That was a fairy-tale story, and it took off from there. Irish cricket has come on leaps and bounds since then.
Back home cricket is a passion now. The participation numbers have more than doubled. I don't know the exact numbers now, but at least 150% increase from 2007 and 2011 as well. You only have to go back to Ireland and speak to anyone about cricket. They love the fact that we are playing such good cricket, especially in global events. The cricketing culture has grown and evolved. It is fantastic. I just hope it keeps going. For us it is a big thing, playing in the World Cup, and to keep it growing back home.
SJ: The ICC is supposed to come up with a decision about the 2019 World Cup. If you were to say something to Dave Richardson or N Srinivasan or whoever is chairing the meeting, what would your request be?
WP: Think about the growth of the game. Think about how things that have happened for any nation have come through the World Cups, like our story from 2007. Look at Afghanistan's rise - it is a great story for them, their rise through the divisions. That is a cricket-mad part of the world. To see the likes of ourselves and Afghanistan and other nations - Scotland, Holland, even UAE - miss out, after having seen them qualify over the last few years and now not give them the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, then I think cricket will die out in a lot of countries and we won't see the development of the game throughout the world, which would be pretty sad.