Saturday 17 November 2018

Good news for women ends mixed year on high

Overseas programmes a plus as Cricket Ireland deals with headaches

Ireland’s Gaby Lewis. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Gaby Lewis. Photo: Sportsfile

Ger Siggins

Cricket Ireland unveils its winners at the Turkish Airlines Awards on Friday night with an unusual mixture of emotions swilling around. The year began with the men's senior team failing to qualify for the World Cup which, as it's being staged in England, represents a serious missed opportunity. The side rebounded with a stirring performance in defeat to Pakistan in the inaugural Test match, before reverting to bad old ways in some embarrassing white-ball hammerings by India and Afghanistan.

But the year ended with some good news from the ICC, which has extended its Women's World Championship to ten teams, promoting Ireland and Bangladesh, and bringing closer the day when Irish women cricketers can become fully professional.

Those women are already away, working hard towards the World T20 in Guyana in mid-November, where they will face Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan.

With an enormously increased programme of fixtures coming up, being able to continually produce talent will be a challenge in the years ahead, especially without that finishing school county cricket hitherto provided. But lots of young players have shown promise this summer, and there is again strong competition for the Sunday Independent Aengus Fanning International Emerging Player of the Year Award, with Una Raymond-Hoey, Rebecca Stokell and Josh Little vying for this prestigious honour.

All three are heading off this winter under various Cricket Ireland (CI) initiatives which men's head coach Graham Ford dubbed the "global jigsaw". Raymond-Hoey and Stokell, and two other women, are off to Australia under a scheme sponsored by Devenish Nutrition to give them opportunities to play and be coached abroad. Little will join a clutch of young pace bowlers at a training camp in Spain, while several batsmen will undergo a 10-day trial by spin in India.

Cricket Ireland's chief executive, Warren Deutrom, is just back from a conference in Singapore where ICC continued its attempt to reshape the sport. He is delighted that Irish women cricketers can now see a way to becoming full-time professionals, and investment will be required to ensure they compete. He also recognises that the players have earned this by their efforts.

"ICC see that Ireland and Bangladesh were a cut above the rest of the associates, and having Kim Garth and Gaby Lewis recognised in Wisden's top 25 players in the world, and players at the top level in Australia's Big Bash were all part of that decision. Women's cricket has a very bright future and we will be part of that."

Deutrom acknowledges there are challenges for his senior men, after a spiral downwards in the rankings to 12th (ODI) and 17th (T20). The new 13-team World Cricket League will run for two years from May 2020 and act towards qualification for the 2023 World Cup. But it will also act as a trapdoor if the lowest finishers in the table are below the winner of the associates league in the rankings. "That would mean losing a place in the World Cricket League, and losing broadcasting deals and a whole lot else, which would mean the business side of it would contract."

Cricket Ireland says it is determined this will not happen, which is why key players have been shipped off to those specialist batting and bowling camps, and a high-performance committee has been introduced to bring experience of cricket - former caps Kyle McCallan, Greg Molins and Andrew White are members - and other sports to long-term and succession planning. Their big challenge now is that three top-order batsmen have retired since July, leaving a 400-cap-sized hole to fill.

The CI boss has other headaches, and the ether above cricket grounds this summer was buzzing with criticism of the governing body and its lack of interest in and support for club cricket. Deutrom argues that the governing body has invested in the provincial unions, providing nearly €1million for managers, offices, development officers and other supports, as well as paying the players in the Interpro competitions.

"It would be easy to just hand every club a cheque but we think it would be better to provide long-term investment. It's not a popularity contest. Provincial union development is vital."

A report appeared on the Cricket Europe website on Friday saying CI was laying off its six development officers and active clubs co-ordinators. Deutrom was unavailable to comment, but a spokesman said a review of the organisation's Strategic Plan 2016-20 envisaged that the "future development of cricket across Ireland is the responsibility of the Provincial Unions".

"There is absolutely no intention to invest less in our development programme," he added. The spokesman stressed that staff were still being consulted and final decisions have not been made.

Another blow to Irish cricket came at last week's ICC meeting which seemed to confirm the 2023 men's World Cup would also have the 10-team format that has been derided by many and will apply in England next summer. But Deutrom refuses to give up his crusade to widen the sport's appeal beyond the narrow vision of other nations. "There were three letters beside that point on the press release - T, B, and C. There will still be opportunities to engage on that, and change minds. There's still hope."

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