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!

Embracing Technology – Archive

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 26th 2013 and modified on May 27th 2014)

Impartiality

There are only twelve élite umpires now and eight of them are ineligible for the Ashes series. That’s ten Test Matches to be officiated between the four remaining umpires. Put simply the mathematics and logistics of this simply don’t add up. Umpires are human and therefore fallible. It stands to reason that if only a few of them are available they will be more prone to making mistakes. The current system also begs the question of why two thirds of the élite group come from England or Australia – the reason they are ineligible – and what is being done to resolve the problem?

Simon Taufel had a distinguished 22-year career as an umpire. He is now the International Cricket Council’s High Performance Manager for Umpires. But he is Australian, begging another question. If the eight élite umpires from either England or Australia cannot officiate because they come from one or other of the competing countries, how can it be justified for Taufel to manage the performance of an Australian umpire?

New Challenges

Among the matches that he umpired was the unfinished match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2009 when terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team’s bus. Some felt the umpires were left to fend for themselves. “That day did change me personally”, Taufel said last year. “I learnt a lot on that day and it helped me focus on the priorities of my life”.

International cricket has not returned to Pakistan since that match in Lahore despite the impassioned pleas of then captain Younis Khan and also Misbah ul-Haq. It has had a terrible effect on Pakistani cricket, both for players and the cricket-loving nation.

Invasive Coverage

Taufel recently delivered the MCC’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. It was a thought-provoking talk. “The investment by television companies in extra cameras, high-speed frame rates, computer software programs and military infra-red technology, plus high definition broadcasting has certainly given the spectator and participants a lot more information – there is no doubt we now have a lot more ‘arm chair’ experts in cricket”! Taufel said.

The scrutiny is intense and errors are amplified in a way previous umpires never had to face. “Today, everyone umpires the game by watching television”, Taufel continued. “The invasive nature of this broadcasting has a double edge to it – it does put more pressure on players and umpires. Not too much now happens on a cricket field that is not captured by a camera, a microphone or piece of technology. This has the ability to bring out the best in the game and also the worst”.

It also highlights umpiring errors with the consequence of causing erosion of confidence in the umpires. Before replays from every angle decisions, including errors were accepted. It was perhaps a more sporting era where batsmen were expected to walk if they got an edge, for example, especially one as blatant as the one Stuart Broad got to Michael Clarke in the first Test Match.

Technology and the Corridor of Absurdity

The Decision Review System (DRS) was established to eliminate howlers from the game. For some it’s a skill – judging when and how to use challenges, as two unsuccessful reviews mean that you cannot make any further challenges even if there is a blatant error by the umpire. While there needs to be some control to deter frivolous challenges, they can be lost on umpire’s call.

This allows a corridor of absurdity where the review shows that the umpire’s decision was actually incorrect, but because it was within the umpire’s discretion to have got it wrong a challenge is lost, which can lead to a wrong decision later being subject to review. It seems unfair that challenges are lost on umpire’s call. A potentially fairer result would be to be uphold the umpire’s original decision, but not cost the reviewing team a challenge, or get rid of umpire’s call altogether.

The Australians plainly hadn’t mastered how to use DRS well, but Aleem Dar’s failure to spot the clearest of contacts was just such a howler that DRS was designed to prevent. His umpiring partner failed to help him out and Broad brazenly stood his ground, taking advantage of a glaring howler. To some Broad was entitled to stand his ground – for others it breached the spirit of the game – In short, was cheating.

Australia had wasted their reviews, so they were powerless to challenge an appalling decision by an élite level umpire. Broad stayed and took advantage, perhaps changing the outcome of the Test Match. Clarke graciously accepted defeat, but such decisions have no place in sport. Errors are one thing but glaring howlers are hard to take. Everyone wants the correct decision to be made. In this case it plainly wasn’t and under the current system, there was nothing that could be done to correct it. Doesn’t that defeat the very point of DRS?

“Every movement of the player is under the microscope (on and off the field) and every movement of the umpire is also under intense scrutiny”, Taufel said. “There is at least one camera on the umpire all the time, every ball, watching his every move and facial expression, waiting to capture his decision for all to see (and be replayed as many times as the director sees fit)”.

It should be pointed out that Dar gave a brilliant decision on Jonathan Trott in that match, which the technology got wrong as it wasn’t switched on – he doesn’t get enough credit for that – but the Broad decision will be replayed many times especially in Dar’s head. The howler wasn’t corrected. There must be a better way.