Monday 19 February 2018

Impressive figures leading Ireland's push for Test spot

Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom has overseen a steady revolution at all levels of the sport here, writes John Greene

The games against Pakistan may prove a watershed moment for Irish cricket.
The games against Pakistan may prove a watershed moment for Irish cricket.
John Greene

John Greene

When you ask Warren Deutrom what World Cup qualification means for Irish cricket, he immediately turns the question on its head: what would it mean for Irish cricket if we didn't qualify for the World Cup? This tells you a lot about Warren Deutrom, the chief executive of Cricket Ireland.

"It's the minimum we expect of ourselves these days," he says. "We don't think we have succeeded by getting to a World Cup, we regard that as par for the course. But having said that, obviously it's a relief in some ways to live up to our own expectations of ourselves.

"It provides a return on the emotional investment put in by players, spectators, administrators – everybody involved in the game, and I guess it provides tangible return on investment for those that put money into the game, and by that I mean the International Cricket Council, sponsors such as RSA, Toyota, O'Neills, and our two government agencies north and south."

Where once an achievement such as this was the pinnacle for Irish cricket, now failure to qualify is just that – failure. But by booking their spot, Ireland's cricketers took another step on the rocky road to their ultimate ambition: full membership status and Test cricket. And Deutrom has overseen much of the progress, ticking the boxes and putting a line through another obstacle to Ireland's grand plan.

"After 2007," he says, "it was obvious there was an enormous spike in terms of interest, investment, media coverage, so we said there are 100 things you could do, 50 you shouldn't and five or 10 you have got the time and money to focus on. We felt in the 2007-2011 period we've got to focus on the men's senior squad narrowly, and almost unapologetically, and sell that concept into the game so we can generate enough revenue and resources for all areas of the sport."

That was the plan, and you wonder if even he could have imagined just how much it would pay off. It's as if Deutrom's path before arriving in Dublin prepared him for Irish cricket; certainly the game here was ready for the right man to bring it forward. He had been exposed to Ireland early in his career, working as an event manager at the 1999 World Cup. Qualification for the tournament was still just a dream for Irish cricket, despite the country hosting games during that World Cup.

Deutrom quickly stood out in the sport, earning a name as an organiser and manager of some ability. A stint with the ECB at a time when it was overhauling its structures broadened his horizons still further, deepening his growing appreciation of proper, long-term planning. His next move was to the ICC, and spells in Monaco and Dubai, before a chance conversation with a friend led to him applying for the vacancy of chief executive of Irish Cricket. With an Irish wife, a family, and an idea that had been fermenting in his head for many years about developing the game, it was a glorious opportunity. Irish cricket was getting a man with a vision, and with the skills to implement it.

Deutrom took up the post just months before Ireland's stunning World Cup debut. Phil Simmons then came in after that memorable World Cup campaign to replace Adrian Birrell as Ireland team manager. It would fall to these two men to make sure that events in the West Indies would not be another of those great sporting flash in the pans, but something else entirely. It was. On and off the pitch the pair have overseen a phenomenal period of growth in the game, a genuine golden age. The Irish Cricket Union – as it was then – chose well.

Now there are development officers around the country, new clubs springing up and old ones thriving again, cricket programmes in schools, an interprovincial series which is a runaway success in its first year and participation figures going through the roof – the most recent data showed a stunning increase from 25,000 to 40,000 in a 12-month period. All this is credited by Deutrom to the success of the Ireland team, and made all the more remarkable by the fact that it hasn't been on the back of just one group of players, but on a system which can now produce a steady stream of international-class cricketers.

"If you look at some of the players in 2007 – Andre Botha, David Langford-Smith, Jeremy Bray, Eoin Morgan, Boyd Rankin, these guys are no longer in the team and yet we're still strong and consistent; we're still producing really high-quality cricketers. And it's not just 50-over cricket, it's in 20-over cricket, and it's in multi-day cricket. We've just qualified for the Intercontinental Cup final in December with a game to spare. And there's our women cricketers as well; we're the only non-Test country that has one-day international status; we're ranked tenth in the world in ODI cricket in women's, we're ranked ninth in the world in T20I; our under 19s have nearly qualified for next year's World Cup, having qualified for the last two. So at every format of the game, every level of the game, both men's and women's, we are demonstrating quality and consistency."

The knock-on effects of qualifying for the major tournaments can be seen across many different levels, but Deutrom is all the time mindful of the endgame: Test status. Any setbacks – and this doesn't just include missing out on major tournaments – such as missing out on set targets such as participation figures and improvements in the domestic game will cause serious damage to that grand ambition. The pressure to perform is a constant.

"When we played our two ODIs against Pakistan at the end of May, I remember one newspaper article saying that we had passed a very important test, that we demonstrated that not only could we play two high-quality cricket matches against world-class opposition but also we could pass the test in terms of making them popular and accessible. We sold out Clontarf for both those games."

Indeed, in time those two games against Pakistan may prove just as much a watershed moment for Irish cricket as events at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups have. After seeing the demand for tickets for Clontarf, Cricket Ireland now knows that top-class opposition is hugely attractive to fans, so tickets are already on sale on its website for the ODI against England at Malahide on September 3 and will certainly sell out well beforehand. Something else which took them aback was the unprecedented international interest in those two games. As an experiment, both games were streamed live on the internet, and the second was picked up in 140 countries, a fantastic thing in itself naturally, but also pointing them towards possible future revenue. Not to mention another box ticked for the ICC.

"We want to have the same business the Test countries have," says Deutrom. "which is that they are able to predict their fixtures three, four, five or even six years in advance, which means that they are able to go to a broadcaster and say, 'I'm going to have these six or seven fixtures at home – Test, ODI, T20I – per year, how much are you going to pay me for it?' Once they get that then they are able to go to a sponsor and say, 'Your brand is going to be appearing for this number of minutes over this number of matches over this number of years'. That is precisely what we are looking for."

The England match will be another test. It's an event that's not just about money, as Deutrom explains. "It'll cost us about €325,000 to literally stage the game – to house the players, pay the costs of the overseas team coming in, hospitality, ticketing, seating, brochures, programmes, everything, and we would hope to make something in the region of €375,000-€400,000 so it's a massive organisational risk for us actually to have to invest in. We can't look upon it purely as a financial undertaking, it's all about raising the profile of the sport."

So Ireland continues to move forward, edging closer and closer to that dream of Test status by 2020. Qualifying for World Cups, scoring victories over Test nations in ODI and T20I, and making sure your house is in order all help, but a credible and viable domestic game is also a prerequisite, which is where the recently revived interprovincial series comes in because "you can't be a Test country unless you're playing an embedded domestic multi-day structure".

The revival has been a huge success, and Deutrom is not deterred by the fact that Kevin O'Brien's Leinster are so much stronger right now. The view in the game, he says, is that it will challenge the other two provincial unions to catch up. And, ultimately, the plan is that the interprovincial series – as has happened in Irish rugby – will bridge the yawning gap between club cricket and international cricket. It is also hoped that it will provide Ireland's best players with a viable alternative to county cricket, and so keep homegrown talent at home.

"I'd like to think that someone like Kevin O'Brien (inset) is going to be the template for the modern Irish cricketer – a guy who can combine some work for his club Railway Union, some cricket for his club, some interprovincial cricket, Irish international fixtures and he's going off to the Caribbean Premier League. I don't know how much he's going to earn but it wouldn't surprise me if he's going to earn as much in six weeks as a young county cricketer will earn in six months. We would regard that as very much the future, the template we want to put before our young cricketers."

Irish Independent

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