IRISH cricket looks to be in pretty rude health. A developing new ground at Malahide near Dublin, a host of players in regular action for English counties, qualification secured for the 2015 World Cup and the recent launch of a domestic contest, the Interprovincial Championship, all add up to a promising picture. Their long-term goal is to become a Test-playing nation by 2020, and the biggest launch pad for that will be the performance of the national side.
On the evidence of today’s ODI against England, the men in green have every reason to feel optimistic about their future. A near sell-out crowd of 10,000 packed into temporary stands on a warm, sunny day, creating a crackling atmosphere – and inspiring their team to a confident, belligerent performance against an under-strength England.
Ireland have a habit of raising their game for the big occasion, most memorably beating the West Indies in 1928, 1969 and again in 2004 – during the 2007 World Cup in which they also beat Pakistan – and upsetting England in the 2011 World Cup, inspired by a once-in-a-lifetime knock from Kevin O’Brien.
Today’s match highlighted one of Ireland’s biggest problems, that several of their best players choose to move to England to play cricket at the highest level. Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin returned as England players having grown up in Ireland, while Ed Joyce spent arguably the best days of his career in England colours before settling back with his home nation.
Morgan believes this “talent drain” will continue until Ireland is granted Test status.
Speaking ahead of the match at Malahide, he said: “If you have a young, ambitious guy who wants to play Test cricket, he’s going to look elsewhere.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the nature of playing cricket in Ireland and for Ireland.
“I think it certainly has changed since I made my decision to go and play cricket for England, but the main factor in deciding whether your aspirations are there is Test match cricket.”
Youngsters in Ireland, faced with the choice of playing football, rugby and gaelic games, will be looking at cricket and wondering if they might be the next Will Porterfield, representing their home country, or the next Eoin Morgan, moving over to seek higher honours in England.
“The Ashes is everything,” Morgan said. And while Ireland are confined to playing one-day matches, they are bound to keep losing players who dream of pushing themselves to the top. Let’s hope they can keep raising their game, and that the ICC are watching.