Friday 28 July 2017

Ireland reach pinnacle after 22-year climb

Warren Deutrom, Chief Executive, Cricket Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile
Warren Deutrom, Chief Executive, Cricket Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

David Townsend

A journey that began in the corridor of a Belfast pavilion more than 22 years ago was completed yesterday afternoon when Ireland were elevated to Full Members of the International Cricket Council and awarded Test match status with immediate effect.

The Boys in Green, along with Afghanistan, who have enjoyed a fairytale rise to the top table of world cricket, join an exclusive club that also comprises England, Australia, South Africa, India, the West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

There will be no three-Test series against Australia or India for many years - if ever - but Ireland will play the highest level of the game against those teams of a similar standing with the occasional one-off Test against the really big fish.

England will host the Boys in Green at Lord's in 2019, for example. Take a minute for that to sink in: a Test match between England and Ireland at the Home of Cricket.

Warren Deutrom, the CEO of Cricket Ireland, who has done more than anyone to achieve what was only a distant dream when he took up his role in 2005, was ecstatic when the news was confirmed.

"Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport and it's what we've been aiming for," he said.

"The players all want to play at the very highest level of the game and it's clearly a momentous day, that we will be able to do that in the very near future.

"I'd like to thank all those involved with Irish cricket for their drive, enthusiasm and energy over the years which has made this journey an ultimately successful one. We are all very proud."

Important as Deutrom has been with his quiet persuasion, persistence and diplomacy in the corridors of ICC power for a decade or more, in one-day international terms he has been 'the finisher' - the man who has completed what others began.

The incredible rise of Irish cricket began back in the shambolic amateur days of the mid-1990s, when players were still informed of selection by letter and told to remember whitener for their boots.

Mike Hendrick applied to become the Irish Cricket Union's first full-time coach and after an awkward interview in Belfast he was buttonholed by then skipper Alan Lewis on his way home.

"Never mind all that rubbish you've just heard," Lewis said. "We've got some good players over here and we need someone who can get us competing. We want to be playing ODIs. Can you help us do that?"

"I can try," the former England bowler replied, and over the next four years, in partnership with ICU secretary the late John Wright, he laid foundations for the growth of the game on the island: building coaching structures and blooding youngsters, like teenager Ed Joyce in 1997.

Earth-shattering

Hendrick's successors Adi Birrell and Phil Simmons oversaw extraordinary victories over Pakistan, England and the West Indies in three successive World Cups; earth-shattering results that were delivered by, among others, Kyle McCallan, Joyce, Niall O'Brien, Andre Botha, Andrew White, Trent Johnston, William Porterfield, Kevin O'Brien, John Mooney, Alex Cusack and Paul Stirling.

Only a handful of those titans will get to play a Test match but sadder still is that Wright, who died in 2008, will not see the fulfilment of his ambition.

'Wee John' was not forgotten amid the blizzard of celebrations on social media last night and it is fitting, perhaps, that Ireland's first Test will almost certainly be played at his Malahide club, probably next year.

Irish Independent

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