Sunday 21 January 2018

Cricket: Hypocrisy of English mercenary accusation

David Townsend

Neil Delamere is a funny man and he came out with a cracking line on BBC radio last week - sadly for the image of Irish cricket it was way off the mark.

Previewing the World Cup for 'Fighting Talk', the comedian joked: "Cricket is a minority sport in Ireland and all our players come from the one small geographical area - South Africa!"

Not so, Mr Delamere. Of the Ireland side that lost its opening game to Bangladesh on Friday, only Andre Botha hails from southern Africa. Trent Johnston is Australian-born but the remaining nine all took their first breath in Ireland.

Sadly that isn't the widely-held perception, particularly among the English press, who largely wrote off the Ireland heroics at the 2007 World Cup as being the work of southern hemisphere mercenaries. The irony of hearing one English sports editor dismiss Ireland as "a bunch of Aussies and South Africans" at the very moment Ed Joyce and Kevin Pietersen were batting for England was mind-boggling.

When Ireland take on England in their second Group B match today in Bangalore one side will contain four South African-born players, the other just one. And if Dubliner Eoin Morgan had not been ruled out of the England squad by injury, there could have been as many as 10 Irishmen on the field -- and only six English-born players.

England's top three batsmen in their opener against The Netherlands (who also have more South Africans than Ireland) were Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott - born in Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town, respectively.

The Irish top three of skipper William Porterfield, Paul Stirling and Joyce are from Derry, Belfast and Bray.

And yet the perception of mercenaries persists and is used by those seeking to thwart Ireland's attempts to be taken seriously as a cricketing nation.

Part of the Irish image problem arose from having Johnston - an Aussie - as captain at the '07 World Cup.

In the next few years, Stirling, George Dockrell and big Boyd Rankin are all likely to be courted by England to follow in the footsteps of Joyce and Morgan.

Perhaps when five Irishmen have represented England within a decade - almost half a team - cricket in Ireland will no longer be laughed at from across the water. Then again, perhaps not.

Meanwhile, Lasith Malinga took his second World Cup hat-trick yesterday as Sri Lanka skittled Kenya for 142 and romped to victory with nine wickets and 32 overs to spare.

Ireland v England,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 9.0

Irish Independent

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