Thursday 8 December 2016

Sri Lankan journey offers hope to Irish Test dreamers

David Townsend

Published 16/06/2016 | 02:30

Ireland will take on Afghanistan in Belfast next month. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Ireland will take on Afghanistan in Belfast next month. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Can anyone imagine Ireland winning the ICC World Cup in the next 15 years? Possibly not, but the same would have been said of today's opponents in the KPC Group ODI series at Malahide when Sri Lanka took their first steps into the big time.

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A small nation close to a cricketing superpower, who had been struggling for years to join the elite (does that sound familiar?), Sri Lanka played their first Test match in 1981 and were crowned global one-day champions in 1996. William Porterfield's team are in the foothills of a similar ascent. It is now highly probable that the Boys in Green will play their first Test match in 2019, whether or not the ICC adopt a radical proposal to split the five-day game into two divisions.

And after that? Duleep Mendis, the Sri Lanka captain in their inaugural Test, has trodden a similar path and he believes that with a combination of hard work, preparation, the right resources and team spirit it is possible to make rapid progress.

"Who would have thought Sri Lanka would win a World Cup so early - just 15 years after gaining Test match status and Full Membership of the ICC? That should be the inspiration for Ireland," he said.

The plan on the ICC table is to give Test cricket a new structure and meaning by adding Ireland and Afghanistan to the existing 10 teams, with the top seven playing for the title of world champions over a two- or three-year cycle plus promotion and relegation to and from the second tier of five sides.

If the new structure is adopted later this month, it would begin in 2019 which might be just too late for 37-year-old Ed Joyce, despite his full focus on winning at least one Test cap, and possibly for 34-year-old Niall O'Brien who will be in the TV commentary box today after tearing a calf muscle last week.

But for youngsters like former Pembroke all-rounder Barry McCarthy, who is preparing for his Ireland debut after an excellent start to the season with Durham, the journey is only just beginning.

Simplistic

"It may sound simplistic but to improve from where they are now, Ireland have to play more competitive cricket at a higher level on a regular basis," Mendis said. "They need to experience different climates, conditions and cultures.

"Ireland should be touring more and playing tough cricket. They need to get depth as well as quality into their squads. They will learn more from defeats by good countries rather than wins against their peers."

It looks as though William Porterfield and his team will be doing just that with ODIs scheduled against Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia in the next three-and-a-half months after the two-match series against Sri Lanka.

Ireland v Sri Lanka, Live, Setanta Ireland, 10.35am

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