Monday 18 December 2017

Missed opportunity but greater tests await Irish

Cricket's top nations are about to put the squeeze on Ireland's World Cup future, writes Gerard Siggins

Y ESTERDAY was Holi in India, a riotous feast day when people throw coloured powders over each other. But as the cold purple dawn crept over Calcutta, Ireland's cricketers knew they had missed their chance to paint the town red.

They did provide a splash of colour to an often predictable event, but the primary emotion as they packed their cases was regret at a missed opportunity.

A nervous, often panic-stricken defeat to Bangladesh put them on the back foot, but the win over England gave them real hope of qualifying for the quarter-finals. Thereafter they showed no respect to big reputations but fought in vain to claim points against India, West Indies and South Africa.

Friday's trouncing of Holland was just the way it should have been against Bangladesh, a professional team job completed even when some members were off-key,

William Porterfield was hailed as the tournament's best captain by Ian Chappell and Ian Botham, but that Dhaka defeat exposed one flaw in the skipper's approach -- a lack of faith in his spinners.

Time and again he returned to the wayward Boyd Rankin who was leaking runs on a lifeless pitch. Meanwhile, Paul Stirling bowled just four cheap overs while George Dockrell was bamboozling the Bangladeshis. His third spinner, Andrew White, with the most ODI experience, wasn't given even a single over.

Perhaps Porterfield felt a need to protect the youngsters, but his decision to give Dockrell just three overs against West Indies was the turning point of the tournament. Kieron Pollard is known to struggle against spin bowling and while he was striking Kevin O'Brien into the middle distance, the Leinster left-armer was ignored.

Phil Simmons was more proactive in the next game, sending orders out to "get George on" which instantly got a wicket. But the last realistic hope of qualification died in the dust of the Punjab, despite another powerful bowling and fielding display against South Africa. The stunning run-outs by Porterfield and John Mooney exemplified the Irish approach to this competition, and marked out the difference between them and other Associates. Just before the tournament, ICC granted an extra paid place in the official party to the so-called minnows. One of the other nations brought along an assistant manager, spending valuable resources on yet another time-served blazer.

Ireland hired top baseball coach Will Lintern to help sharpen the fielding and bring imaginative ideas to this crucial area. It paid off spectacularly, ground-fielding the one area Ireland were able to dominate every opponent.

The inch-perfect run-outs of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis were a clear sign of how Ireland maximised their resources.

The real regret at elimination, however, is not just that players such as Trent Johnston, Ed Joyce and Andre Botha couldn't crown their careers in a World Cup quarter-final, but that the next generation may be hampered in its own efforts to do so.

ICC have already said that the next tournament will have just ten teams, and will decide in April whether to have a qualifying process for 2015. ICC is not a FIFA-style governing body, merely a ten-member council comprised of the ten full members. It is hard to see Bangladeshi or Zimbabwean turkeys voting for Christmas, as the CWC is a huge money-spinner for all nations. And as the two weakest full members have always been loyal supporters of their power blocs, Ireland's on-field efforts are unlikely to sway the politicians.

One ICC insider told the Sunday Independent that a compromise proposal was doing the rounds that, should a full member miss qualifying for 2015, it would still receive the full participation fee -- which was $10m in 2007.

It is a serious headache for Warren Deutrom, the Cricket Ireland chief executive, who flew out to Kolkata to host new sports minister Leo Varadkar at Eden Gardens. Deutrom, a former ICC official, has been with Cricket Ireland for four years and seen the organisation grow alongside the team's success. It wasn't always a case of beating away sponsors.

"We were in a desperate situation after the 2007 World Cup, which cost us a fortune. But when I first got the job I had a chat with John Treacy. He told me 'I haven't got a feel for cricket Warren, but if you do well the Sports Council will back you'. And they were there for us, digging us out with a cheque for €350,000."

That investment has been well repaid, and cricket can look forward to more. Treacy said this weekend that "the ISC regards cricket as a high-performance sport and you will see investment directed on that basis in the future".

The future on the field is bright, with only Johnston, Joyce and Botha certain to be gone by 2015. They will be replaced by the likes of Clontarf's Jordan Coghlan and Donemana's Alex McBrine.

In 2007, there were just three professionals in the 15-man party -- Rankin, Niall O'Brien and Eoin Morgan. In 2010, only two men earn their living away from cricket. A healthy number of the youngsters left behind have already started careers in England, with Craig Young (Sussex), Graeme McCarter (Gloucestershire), James Shannon (Worcestershire), Stuart Poynter (Middlesex) and Shane Getkate (Warwickshire) among those bidding to join the squad in the near future. Others have opted to study in English universities just to enjoy three or four games against counties each summer.

The richly-talented Clongowes schoolboy Jordan Coghlan is on his way too, once the Leaving Cert is put to bed. The Clontarf quickie has already had a successful trial with Hampshire but Sussex are also keen to contract him and the presence of fellow Irishmen Joyce and Young may sway him.

But whether Coghlan and Young ever get the chance to play in an ODI World Cup is now in the lap of cricket's self-professed gods.

Sunday Indo Sport

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