Development Path

the ICC,by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Test

Two days ago cricketʼs 50 over-per side World Cup produced its first major shock – well Ireland outplayed the West Indies, chasing down a target of over 300. The West Indies had recovered from a rocky start and Ireland had a major wobble near the end. Nobody could argue that Ireland deserved their win. At least one cricketing great, the West Indiesʼ superb fast bowler Michael Holding, sees no reason for Ireland to have to wait.

Holding wants Ireland to be fast tracked to Test Match status. We agree. It is essential for Ireland to continue to develop and that cannot happen as it should if Irelandʼs best players have no option, but to seek eligibility for other nations – England – if they want to test themselves. For top cricketers Test Matches are the real deal.

Twenty20 is the popular format and the one that carries riches, but Test matches are the measure of greatness. As Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sagakkara told us in 2009, “No player talks about scoring 2000 runs in Twenty20 internationals, but they all want to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket”. So what choice do the best Irish cricketers have? If they want to test themselves they have no choice at the moment – itʼs England or no Test Matches for them.

Joyce

Almost five years ago we secured an exclusive interview with Ed Joyce – a player who has experienced everything possible as an Irish cricketer. He made his name with Ireland before they achieved their great upsets and played First Class (county) cricket in England. He developed as a cricketer as far as he could with Ireland at that time.

He wanted to test his skills in the cauldron of Test cricket. He had no choice. It had to be England. He was in and out of Englandʼs side – too good for Ireland, but not good enough for England. Joyce was eligible for England between 2006-2010. He wanted to play Test cricket, believed that he was good enough, but never played one. So what remained for him?

Joyce chose to play for Ireland again in 2010 and was fast-tracked through eligibility in order to play in 2011 World Cup. He played in the ODI World Cup of 2007 as well, but for England, thereby missing Irelandʼs most successful World Cup to date. Ireland announced their arrival in that tournament with wins over Pakistan and also Bangladesh.

Reward

In 2011 they beat the old enemy England and this year they added the scalp of the West Indies, albeit a team in disarray after an ugly spat between Board and players over payments. Nevertheless, Irelandʼs performance is impressive. They chased down 304 with 25 balls to spare, winning by 4 wickets.

It could have been more as with victory in sight, mainly thanks to 92 from Paul Stirling, 84 from the 36-year-old Joyce and an unbeaten 79 from Niall OʼBrien, Ireland suffered a wobble. But Ireland has a strong case to join the élite nations. Scores of 300+ have only been chased down 5 times – three of them have been by Ireland.

They have performed consistently in the last three World Cups, knocking off their supposed betters. Itʼs time the ICC rewarded the progress they have made with the ultimate prize. For a decade they will most likely be awful. So what. Everyone else was too when they first became Test playing nations.

They must not be afraid to lose – they need to learn a new format. It may take several years. Again, so what? If the popularity of Test cricket is to grow, the ICC must not duck the Ireland test. It is the only way that future Ed Joyces and Eoin Morgans will stay and play for Ireland – they need to keep their best players if they are to continue to develop and achieve their potential.

Return

Well I’ve thrown my hat in with Ireland, being an Irishman”, Joyce told us, “so I just came over and played for England and as I’ve always said before I wouldn’t give those England memories up for anything, but I feel my future is with Ireland”.

But why? “They’re an improving cricketing nation and I would like to be a part of that improvement, so hopefully I’ve got five or six years playing for them and do good things for them in the World Cup and what not”, he said.

Forward-Planing

So how did he see Ireland progressing? “I think it’s important that we keep getting into the big tournaments”, Joyce said. “That’s the most important thing. Exposure’s important at home, because it’s one of the lesser games. There’s obviously three or four sports much bigger than cricket, so we’ve just got to keep trying to get to the big competitions – the World Cups – and keep performing and keep getting games against the big teams and putting in decent performances, because I think that’s the key to keep the exposure there and all the young players will come up and hopefully the standard will improve and there’ll be a bit more money coming in and it becomes a virtuous circle where everything starts improving”.

He wasnʼt wrong. Joyce didnʼt think that Ireland was ready for Test cricket. In fact he thought it was a long way off. It seems that five years is a long time in cricket. No less an authority than Michael Holding wants to see Ireland take the next step in their development – Test status. Who are we to disagree?

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The Concrete Test

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Rewarding Success

Are Ireland minnows any more? Despite losing some of their best players to England – understandably lured by the desire to play Test cricket, they still manage to produce good cricketers. They have beaten England and Pakistan and this week added the scalp of the West Indies after chasing down a target of over 300.

They should have won more comfortably than they did, but with an easy victory in sight they had a wobble. Theyʼll learn from it. Well, they will if the International Cricket Council (ICC) give them the chance to.

One of cricketʼs greats Michael Holding wants Ireland to be fast tracked to Test Match status. They need it if they are to develop. Letʼs not forget that it took decades for the West Indies to turn from outclassed minnows into one of the most dominant sides cricket has ever seen.

Convenient Memories

India were terrible at first and South Africa were not in the same class as England and Australia. New Zealand were awful too at first. And the swash-buckling Sri Lankans were no different. They too had a rocky start – look at them now. Two of the greats of cricket are in their swansong. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara will go down in history as greats – not just of Sri Lankan cricket, but of cricket.

So letʼs ignore the convenient memories that focus on Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – the most recent additions. They still need time to learn and adapt to Test cricket and Ireland will too. Thatʼs no reason to deny Ireland the chance to grow. If cricket is to appeal beyond its traditional support base it must give the ʻlesserʼ nations a seat at the big table.

Ireland is cricketʼs most important test of that currently. Do we want to see another Netherlands? The potential was there to develop Dutch cricket less than a decade ago. A sensational victory against England in the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009 demonstrated that there was talent in Dutch cricket. They developed in that format, but not in the longer ones.

The Netherlands lost their ODI status last year after holding it for 8 years. Canada lost theirs too, but the biggest surprise and waste was Kenya, which had held it since 1996 – the same year they surprised the mighty West Indies. But none of these nations got to take the next step – nor were they developed for it. They still havenʼt been. The price was stagnation and then regression.

This must not happen again with Ireland. Almost five years ago we spoke exclusively to one of Irelandʼs stalwarts – still – Ed Joyce. His thoughts on Irish cricket were illuminating and coming very soon!