The 2-0 scoreline won’t come as a surprise to many people, nor indeed the one sided nature of the matches, particularly the first of them. In some ways the belated nature of finally inviting Ireland to play is symptomatic of a game that seems hell bent on trying to limit growth (except financial to the chosen few) rather than assume a missionary zeal to ensure it widens its frontiers.
Ireland found a collection of decent players and created a buzz in the country with their magnificent win over England in Bangalore. Unquestionably cricket became a game on the up throughout the island, clubs reported huge increases in interest and new ones were formed. Visitors to Ireland would pass on anecdotes of how cricket would crop up in conversation, something that never happened to that point. This was, without question, a good news story. From being a fringe sport, it became one that might not have quite reached the mainstream, but certainly had aspirations to do so. The iron was hot, and it was time to strike. Naturally enough, the ICC didn’t do that. No pathway to Test status was offered, no formalisation of the potential for a new nation at the top level was created. Instead proposals to curtail the World Cup were approved, the result of which was to make life harder for nations like Ireland. With qualification so difficult, every match became vital, every side put out had to win.
This team have got old together, and while all involved insist there is talent beneath the surface there haven’t always been the opportunities for them to move up and take the side to the next level. How Ireland have managed their young players is something open to debate, but it surely must be a concern to see so many of the same names in the side as there were six years ago.
The trouble is, we’ve been here before, hence the concern. At one point Kenya looked like they might be the ones to break through, and in Steve Tikolo they had a national cricketing icon to take them on. But the help they had was limited, domestic problems curtailed progress, and a generation faded away along with hopes for a new cricketing nation.
The reason why this enrages so many is the double standards. Bangladesh were fast tracked into international cricket on little more than a wing and a prayer and with no first class infrastructure at all. The ECB, perhaps rather astonishingly, actually seem to have provided reasonable assistance to Irish cricket – to the point that Cricket Ireland openly praised them saying they couldn’t wish for a better full member sponsor. Yet despite this the suspicion is that many Test nations are opposed to Ireland’s promotion on the grounds that it might dilute their own power, the same reasoning in reverse that led to Test status for Bangladesh. If this is true, it is perhaps one of the worst examples of the skewed priorities involved among the powerful who care so little for the game, and so much for lucre. Bangladesh weren’t even close to being ready for the top level, and many said so at the time. Yet given they have reached the point where they are competitive now, as they showed against England last year, a good case could be made that however long it took, it was a price worth paying for expanding the global game.
Ireland six years ago were THE good news story of cricket. They remain a decent enough side who weren’t out of their depth in the second match, and who could have pushed England closer than they did had things gone a bit better for them. The problem is that whereas these two matches should have been a celebration of a rising country come to take its place at the top table, there’s the fear that cricket as a sport is going to miss the opportunity. There is no reason at all why Ireland should not have been and should not now be granted the same opportunities as Bangladesh were, unless those opposed are doing so on the basis that the Bangladesh decision was wrong, and is still wrong. Few are making that argument.
Ireland playing England at Lord’s was wonderful. If the game of cricket fails to support them sufficiently to ensure that it’s a regular event, that’s something for which they should hang their heads in shame. In no other sport is the development of it beyond its normal borders considered to be a problem that needs solving rather than a glorious opportunity.