A sense of sadness took over when Ireland were knocked out of the World Cup by a reinvigorated Pakistani side. It is more disturbing that there is a real chance Ireland may not feature in the 2019 World Cup, for the ICC has decided it will be a 10-team competition. “The ICC is the International Cricket Council. That’s global. They’ve got to develop the game…If you cut World Cups from the agenda, then what’s the point really in us keeping going?” said William Porterfield, the Irish skipper. With that statement, Porterfield echoed the sentiments of a lot of people from both Associate and Test-playing countries.
Ireland at the CWC: No “Luck of the Irish” this
Ireland’s rise in the cricketing sphere has been relatively swift. It is for a reason. They have a structure that would shame some of the full members and adhere to a selection process that does not allow easy access to players from other countries merely on the basis of eligibility. Exposure to county cricket has helped, but success stories have also been etched in the lower levels of its domestic system.
This wasn’t always the case with Irish cricket. Playing for Ireland was an expensive ordeal not so long ago, but when the body and the players have resolutely overcome such issues, it is unfortunate that the powers that be choose not to give worthy candidates a helping hand. Test cricket is the sport’s Holy Grail and while changes have been made to pave way for the highest ranked Associate nation to compete in a recognised Test match against the lowest ranked full member nation, one wonders if that will help advance any plans there may be of globalisation of the game.
Cricket is unique in that it is the only sport that repeatedly chooses to be exclusive. The ICC reckons limiting its premier competition to a handful is a progressive move; that by doing so it helps reduce the number of inconsequential matches. The logic falls flat since the 2019 World Cup is scheduled to run longer than the current one featuring fourteen teams. Moreover, they only need to look at two games to deem contests between Associate nations significant: Ireland versus UAE at Brisbane and Afghanistan against Scotland at Dunedin. They were perhaps the best matches in the first round of fixtures.
The support countries like Ireland and Afghanistan have drawn is also evidence of how the sport is of consequence. Ireland boasts of a good structure, an environment conducive for cricket and an authentic fan base that cares at a deeper level: for instance, a placard was brandished during a rare match between Ireland and England. “We don’t want our best players playing for England: Irish cricket deserves better,” it read. Another one, this after Ireland trumped England in the 2011 World Cup, read “Can we cricket? Yes we can.” With their restrictions, the head honchos are barricading genuine enthusiasts.
Bangladesh were granted entry into the elite club for far less, but the joy it has brought to its millions must be reason enough for the ICC to incorporate more nations. Although results have arrived at a slower rate than ideal, the future seems propitious.
Ironically, the ICC is aware of this; it is aware of the interest cricket garners in Ireland. Its website has this to say: “[In Ireland], there has been an incredible surge in youngsters playing and participating in the sport following the World Cup. Clubs right across the country are reporting a dramatic upsurge in numbers, typically by 100-300 per cent.”
The Irish have built a plethora of doors for opportunity to come knocking. It is heartrending that soon there will be no point in looking forward to its arrival; and for no plausible reason.
Tim Wigmore, one of the authors of the book Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts, aptly summarizes the juncture cricket in Ireland currently finds itself in as follows in his book: “If the transformation of Irish cricket over the last decade has been extraordinary, the acute fear is that Ireland is not being allowed to capitalize upon its cricketing moment. As idyllic as The Village ground is, Ireland are restless for much more — and quickly.