16 February 2015

Irish cricket 'arrived' some years ago!

'Ireland has arrived!' is the title of an article I wrote for the Daily News on March 4, 2011. That's almost four years ago.  Right now, as I re-post, Ireland is about to beat the once mighty West Indies in its first match of this edition of the Cricket World Cup!

I’ve just finished watching Ireland purposefully and one might even say clinically approach and overhaul the imposing target of 327 set by England, winning by 3 wickets with 5 balls to spare.  In the process I was treated to a record bludgeoning by K.J. O’Brian whose broke the record for the fastest century in a World Cup game, reaching the three-figure mark in just 50 deliveries. 

The win will no doubt buttress Ireland’s claim to be counted among the Test-playing nations.  I said they deserved Test status way back in 2007 and I say it again today.  Back in the 2007 World Cup Ireland tied with Zimbabwe, beat Pakistan by 3 wickets with 5.2 overs to spare and beat Bangladesh by 74 runs.  Three wins against Test-playing countries is a huge achievement but one which was not considered good enough for the ICC to grant Ireland Test-status. 

I noted then that Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka gained full membership with relatively modest performances.  Admittedly, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were the weakest of the Test-playing nations back in 2007 and one could argue that the Pakistani batsmen had a bad day at the office on March 17, 2007.  Beating England in 2011 is different though, especially after bowling out a resurgent Bangladesh side for a little over 200 runs a few days previously.

This English team is just after an Ashes win and a tremendous effort to tie a game with tournament favourites India.  Even today, the English batsmen clicked and put together a total whose magnitude alone would demoralize any Associate Member into meek submission a third of the way into the innings.  Indeed, for a while at least, it seemed this was going to be Ireland’s fate.  The Irish Skipper Porterfield was out for a first-ball duck and half way into the innings to cream of their batting was back in the pavilion.  A score of 111 for 5 at the halfway mark with more than double this amount to get in the second half would be a daunting task even for one of the top Test-playing countries.  

O’Brian and the Irish tail showed skill, patience, maturity and immense character.  It was a lesson in how to keep one’s faith, how to do the basics right, how to keep your head and how to pace an innings.  That’s ‘Test’ in my book, even though this was a 50-over game. 

Ireland has effectively placed an ominous question mark after England’s name in Group B with respect to chances of proceeding to the quarter finals.  They have thrown Group B wide open. They’ve given all Associate Members respectability and called to question ICC’s decision to limit the number of non Test-playing nations at the next World Cup. They’ve shown heart.  They’ve also entertained.   

Right now Ireland is ahead of only Zimbabwe in the ODI rankings, but they are clearly able to trouble any of the teams ahead of them on their day.   Bangladesh had to fight hard to secure a win and England just didn’t have what it takes.  More games, greater exposure and it is more than likely that Ireland would climb the ladder or in the very least show more progress than Bangladesh did in the early years after being granted full membership in the ICC. 

Some may argue ‘too soon’. Others may say ‘ODIs are not Tests’.  Sure.  Then again, Bangladesh hadn’t done anything spectacular to deserve full membership 10 years ago but look where they are now.  They are at the bottom in the Test rankings but are ahead of the West Indies in the ODI list and arguably stronger than at least New Zealand and quite capable of springing more than the odd surprise against higher-ranked teams.   

It is not useful to getting to what-ifs, but I can’t stop myself asking ‘What if Kenya had been granted Test-status after their fairy-tale performance in the 2003 edition?’

The Irish have brought this World Cup alive after a slew of one-sided games between the upper class and the ‘untouchables’ of world cricket, so to speak.  They’ve done a lot to lift their game and this is quite evident on the field.  Deny them now and you will find their most promising cricketers migrating to England. Admit them and you’ll get a across-the-sea rivalry a few years down the road that would give the one between Australia and New Zealand a good run for the money in terms of passion, entertainment and no-holds-barred cricket. 

A game that has been scarred by match-fixing allegations needs a fillip that does some justice to the decent players and the enthusiastic spectators.  Ireland has a long way to go.  Ireland has arrived though.  It is time they are marked ‘present’ by the ICC.