As an Irishman lifts the Cricket World Cup trophy, his countrymen are preparing for a huge test of their own
The road to international cricket’s top table has been a long one for Ireland and that was only the start of more difficulty – but recent shoots of recovery point to a brighter future.
After an Irishman led England to their thrilling victory in the Cricket World Cup Final just across the Irish sea, the Emerald Isle are gearing up for a big test of their own.
Ireland’s first Test against England, which starts on July 24 and signals the transition between the World Cup and the Ashes for the English, is a huge step forward.
Eoin Morgan was central to Ireland’s first ever ODI win in 2006, scoring 99 as they beat Scotland in the European Championship.
Morgan was also part of the successful World Cup 2007 squad, which surpassed expectation by tying with Zimbabwe and beating Pakistan and Bangladesh.
A lack of Test cricket and the ‘glass ceiling’ – as dubbed by chief executive Warren Deutrom in interviews with Wisden – above them led to Morgan pursuing a career with England instead.
Indeed, one of the biggest shames about Ireland’s first foray into Test-match cricket is that many of the players who propelled them to global attention are long gone.
Morgan now plays for England; Jeremy Bray – a centurion in the World Cup tie with Zimbabwe – retired in 2010; Niall O’Brien, who led them to their first World Cup win, called it a day last year, and like Ed Joyce only played one Test.
Former captains Kyle McCallan and Trent Johnston also played a huge role in Irish cricket’s development but never had the opportunity to showcase their talents in test matches.
Bottom of the top
Ireland go into their first Test match against England with a Test record of played two, lost two.
They sit 11th in the ICC ODI Championship and failed to qualify for the World Cup too, while they have dropped to 15th in the T20i rankings, behind the likes of Nepal, Scotland and the Netherlands.
Having fought so hard to get to the top tier of international cricket, they have had to rely on a new generation of players to lead the charge once they got there.
But the seeds of recovery have been sewn; Ireland’s 3-0 ODI series win against Zimbabwe helping them leapfrog their opponents in those aforementioned rankings.
Shoots of recovery
James McCollum and Paul Stirling each hit two half-centuries in the three matches, while Andy Balbirnie’s 101 in the opening game at Bready was his fifth ODI hundred.
Tim Murtagh claimed nine wickets with the ball, meanwhile, including a match-winning 5-21 in the second game, and Mark Adair took six.
Balbirnie, McCollum and Adair are playing their domestic cricket in the Irish system too – the former for Leinster and the latter two for Northern Knights.
All three are in the squad to play England, with Adair a potential Test-match debutant for the four-day game at Lord’s.
One swallow does not make a summer and beating an out-of-form Zimbabwe team does not suddenly make Ireland world-beaters.
But, at the same time, it was an important series win just as international cricket interest appeared to be waning in Ireland.
They are still huge outsiders for the Lord’s Test, but they should arrive in London with renewed confidence.
It is also a boost ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League, where Ireland’s eight series include hosting Zimbabwe again.
After the England Test, further matches against Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and New Zealand are also in the Irish programme for the next few years.
Irish cricket is fully deserving of its full member status, having worked so hard for years to achieve it.
The time is now ripe for their current generation to start to prove it, and reignite interest in the sport on the Emerald Isle.
Irish Test squad to face England: William Porterfield (c), Mark Adair, Andrew Balbirnie, Andy McBrine, James McCollum, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Lorcan Tucker, Gary Wilson, Craig Young