Monday 11 December 2017

Ger Siggins: Plenty of headaches after the celebrations

Warren Deutrom’s achievement has been noted in bigger, richer sporting circles. Photo: Sportsfile
Warren Deutrom’s achievement has been noted in bigger, richer sporting circles. Photo: Sportsfile

Ger Siggins

There's a statue at the top of Dublin's O'Connell Street of Charles Stewart Parnell, son of a first-class cricketer and himself a keen player. Inscribed with a speech he gave in Cork in 1885, it reads "No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation . . . No man has the right to say to his country, 'thus far shalt thou go and no further'."

Parnell was talking about nationhood, but six years ago, Warren Deutrom started making the same noises about cricket. He began floating the notion of Ireland working towards Test status, refusing to accept that anyone had a right to impose boundaries on Ireland's ambition. He faced scorn, and even laughter in some quarters at home and abroad, but kept going even when ICC's door remained resolutely shut.

Deutrom's main achievement was convincing Irish cricket it could achieve something it hadn't even dreamt about.

A Test match is a wondrous thing, the ultimate measure of a cricketer's skill, fortitude and ambition. For almost eight hours a day, for a full working week, you are pitted against 11 high-quality opponents in that quirky set-up that defines cricket as a team game made up of hundreds of fleeting individual battles.

The Caribbean Marxist philosopher CLR James saw parallels between Test cricket and Ancient Greece, where citizens flocked from all over the land for a week to watch Olympic sports or tragic plays. The athleticism and drama has enraptured followers across the millennia.

Test cricket's pull was so great that three of Ireland's modern greats switched allegiance in a bid to prove themselves at that level. And now, thanks to a decision handed down in London on Thursday, no future player will face that dilemma.

While other Irishmen make their names and their millions at sports that are barely out of the packaging, cricketers have had to wait almost three centuries. From first foosterings in the Phoenix Park in the 1730s, the sport took root in the 19th century and became the most popular pastime in the land. But it was buffeted by the changing tides of history, politics, war, rebellion and migration and shrank to a few redoubts around Dublin, Cork, Belfast and Derry.

It began to recover with the arrival of piped television in the '70s, extensive BBC coverage winning a new audience, but not until the hiring of professional national coaches did Irish cricket begin to understand its own potential. A wave of talented overseas players drawn here by the economic boom boosted the playing strength and allowed Ireland to make waves internationally, while the administration became streamlined under ICU secretary John Wright.

As soon as Ireland got its foot in the door at World Cups it stunned the sport with wins over the world's best, thereby earning official ODI status. That moment coincided with the recruitment of Deutrom, an Englishman who worked at the ICC but had moved to Ireland with his Dublin-born wife, Ingrid.

Deutrom had the knowledge, and the relationships, to ensure Cricket Ireland could continue to make waves but, crucially, he also had enormous ambition. "We've always said the shame is not in failing to reach an ambitious target, but in being afraid to try," he said last week.

While he has refused to take the credit for Ireland's elevation - while others have rushed to claim it - Deutrom's achievement has been noted in bigger, richer sporting circles. Irish cricket's next battle may be to hang on to his services. He will spend this weekend in celebration, but knows he must hit his desk early tomorrow to begin to tackle an in-tray full of requests, demands and problems, the thorniest of which is what is to be done about the under-performing senior team, head coach and high-performance department. At the press conference on Friday John Bracewell was notable by his absence, and by the absence of any mention of his name. The arrival of the respected new bowling coach Rob Cassells has the air of succession-planning about it.

Deutrom will have to juggle a less-than hoped for windfall; try to raise the €6m needed to transform Malahide - or wherever - into a permanent Test venue; and persuade a suitably marquee name to come to kick off the new era. Pakistan or Australia in summer 2018 are mooted as likely first Test opponents.

Deutrom will have many headaches to deal with from now on.

Sunday Indo Sport

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