By Behram Qazi
It was on March 17, 2007 when world cricket started taking the minnows seriously. A few days before Saint Patrick’s Day, the Irish cricket team had caused arguably the biggest upset in World Cup history. On a green Sabina Park pitch, Trent Johnston, Ireland’s captain won the toss and invited Inzamam-ul Haq’s boys to bat.
The Irish bowling line-up swept away Pakistan’s batting order and bowled them out for a dreadful score of 132 runs.
Although Pakistan showed some fight when they came on to the field, they were unable to prevent defeat. A clean 72 runs from wicket keeper-batsman Niall O’Brien helped Ireland secure a mammoth upset, with three wickets to spare. Consequently, Ireland progressed to the next round of the tournament and managed another victory against Bangladesh.
Since then, Ireland has managed to play a couple of games against top sides every year but have often been deprived of quality cricket. However, every time they get a chance, they impress their fans.
In the next edition of the World Cup in 2011, Ireland caused another major upset, defeating England thanks to a 63-ball 113 by all-rounder Kevin O’Brien (Niall’s younger brother). More recently, the Ireland team showed the potential to become a future Test- playing nation as they tied a game against Pakistan.
Although playing top-level cricket is crucial for competing against the big guns, the Irish have been victims of another misfortune that has held back their progress in the cricketing world — the misfortune of losing their best players to England.
It seems that England has the authority to pick and choose promising talent from their neighbours. It all started when Irish opener Ed Joyce was selected to play for England in late 2006 and was a part of England’s 2007 World Cup squad. However, as soon as his performance fell, he was dropped from England’s team, after which he returned to the Irish side as a formidable opener.
Then, a few years later, flamboyant Irish middle-order batsman Eoin Morgan won his English cap after representing Ireland in a fair amount of games. Today, Morgan is a crucial member of England’s limited overs squad and he also led the English side against Australia in the recently-concluded One-Day International (ODI) series. England captain Alastair Cook was not part of this series since he had been granted a leave after a triumphant home Ashes series.
Still, after Ireland’s recent string of performances, it seemed that things would start getting better for the men in light green. However, soon the news broke that premier Irish fast bowler Boyd Rankin had joined the English ranks. Adding salt to the wounds, Boyd made his debut for England against his former team at Dublin.
England’s new fast bowling spearhead did not disappoint, and ended the match with figures of four for 46 from nine overs. However, the rest of England’s bowlers failed to make a mark as Irish captain William Porterfield scored a solid 112, guiding his team’s total to a strong score of 269 runs.
The second half of the game was truly heartbreaking as Ireland lost the game after taking four English wickets with only 48 on the scoreboard. What made matters worse was that it was Eoin Morgan who led England to victory along with Ravi Bopara — both batsmen scoring quick centuries. Ireland had lost an important game thanks to their cricketers playing for the rival team. Looking at this chain of events, it may not be long before England robs Ireland of their young off-spin sensation George Dockrell.
During the match, a group of Irish supporters protested with placards in the stadium, clearly indicating their anger. Even as a neutral fan, their frustration and resentment is understandable. However, I wouldn’t blame England’s cricket team completely, as players do have a choice as to which country they want to represent. Of course, in these high-flying professions, the element of money and fame plays a key role when making this decision.
As a cricket fan, I would love to watch Ireland gain Test status, but I am afraid that may not be possible if things continue this way. In order to become a quality side, you need to play frequent competitive cricket and field your best 11; and we have seen that Ireland does not enjoy either of those luxuries.
Needless to say, the Ireland Cricket Board needs to step up and lay down some ground rules for its cricketers. Some remedies include higher pay scales and of course, an increased level of international cricket exposure. Also, perhaps, if players are restricted to play for Ireland after representing England, many cricketers might opt not to wear the blue jersey.
However, the cricket board alone cannot make a difference on its own. The International Cricket Council (ICC) should also step in and offer more facilities to Irish cricketers since expanding the cricketing universe is vital towards increasing popularity of the sport. After all, Bangladesh was awarded Test status after a victory against Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, after which they continued to play sub-standard cricket for almost a decade. Hence, there is no reason for not trying to give a boost to the Irish cricket team, who have in fact, been very competitive each time they have been given an opportunity.
The question is: Will the ICC continue to invest in big money projects or will it choose to spend money wisely for improving the game? Will we continue to see budding Irish talent being stolen by England and the consequently limited possibilities of another Test playing nation? Will we witness more Rankins and Morgans represent England in the years to come instead of a competitive Irish 11? Frankly, I dread the very thought of it and hope that love and passion for the ‘gentleman’s game’ will endure over the hunger for wealth, popularity and commercial success.
(Behram Qazi is an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, a sports fanatic and a patriotic Pakistani. He tweets @Behram22. The above article is reproduced from http://tribune.com.pk/ with permission)