Ireland’s bid to become a full member of the International Cricket Council is an ambitious move, writes Hugh O’Connor
Whether as a player or a supporter, cricket in Ireland can be easily frustrating. Ireland’s national team take to the field, play some great matches, take some great scalps, and then go back home to their full-time jobs and regular work.
Ireland, unlike the stronger cricketing nations of the world, has no senior Test team, meaning that Irish men and women cannot represent their country at the highest level of the sport. Our strongest players are lured across the water in pursuit of a Test career with the England side – and while this is infuriating for Irish fans, it is easy to see things from a player’s perspective.
If a cricketer wants to play at the highest level and to make a living doing it, only a career with a Test nation can satisfy them. Moving across the water hasn’t worked out just yet for Ed Joyce, perhaps Ireland’s best ever batsman, and although Eoin Morgan has had a promising start in the England XI, he’ll undoubtedly find it tough to hold down a regular place in the side, especially with Kevin Pietersen – cricket’s own David Beckham – returning from injury.
If the situation stays the same in Ireland, with a glass ceiling stopping us from progressing any further and limiting the professional contracts available, this exodus seems likely to continue.
The move this week from Cricket Ireland, the game’s governing body here, to apply for Full Member status from the International Cricket Council – allowing them to play Test match cricket – is a hugely positive move. But will it be crowned with success?
Ireland’s performances on the pitch have certainly given them a good platform for application. Unbeaten in first-class matches since 2004, with qualification for the Super 8 stages of both the One-Day and Twenty20 World Cups, and with victory in the 2011 World Cup qualifying tournament and three successive Intercontinental Cups, nobody can say that Ireland don’t have a competitive, passionate and ultimately successful team. The performance against Bangladesh in the Twenty20 World Cup this year was composed under pressure, and a perfect example of how to pace a run chase.
The ultimate problem is that the governance of cricket is all about money. The ICC and the national boards of the major nations are money-mad; whether it is their association with Sir Allen Stanford or in the scheduling of endless ODI series, much of world cricket is focused on the next payday.
If Ireland wants to break into the game’s top flight, they’ll need to prove that they can bring money to the game and not just be a financial drain. Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland’s CEO, has identified the need for Ireland’s games to guarantee a television audience as a key factor. Currently Ireland don’t hit television screens, except when taking part in various World Cups.
Bangladesh were the last team to be elevated to Full Member status, back in 2000. However, they have a much larger population to draw from and are helpful to their former colonial partner India as a voting partner. The politics of cricket are finely balanced, and don’t be surprised if the sub-continental teams vote against an application by Ireland for entry.
Commentators have also pointed to Ireland’s facilities. Could we host Australia in a test match series in a decent ground? The ground in Stormont is a good facility and is suitable for ODIs, but the facilities there and in Clontarf will need substantial work if top-class cricket is to be played – though Cricket Ireland have already sought planning permission for a major regeneration of the latter.
Given the importance of getting fans to the matches from a commercial point of view, Ireland will need bigger stands that the side can fill. Sadly it’s difficult to see Brian Lenihan’s budget sending a lot of money to improve cricketing facilities.
The odds are that Ireland’s application will be refused. However, even the application process is a big move in the right direction. It shows the world that Ireland have the ambition and drive to play with the big boys, and at the very least the ICC will offer Ireland specific targets to reach before being admitted to the top table. It may not happen straight away, but we have shown our intent, and no one can deny that Irish cricket has a bright future ahead.