Wednesday 17 July 2019

Time for ICC to do the right thing

Ireland's Ed Joyce
Ireland's Ed Joyce

David Townsend

PERHAPS it needs Bob Geldof to storm into the ICC offices in Dubai, slam his fist on the table and demand: "Give us your f***ing Test status!" Or better still, that self-proclaimed cricket nut Martin McGuinness.

Because it's hard to see what more Ireland can do - on or off the field - to budge the global custodians of the game from clinging desperately to their ever more untenable status quo.

In 19 World Cup games since 2007, the Boys in Green have beaten five of the ICC's 'Full Members' - that's half of the teams we are told Ireland are not good enough to compete with on a regular basis.

To be healthy and grow, every sport must be meritocratic; individuals and teams have to be allowed to prosper or fall on their talents. International cricket is clearly not a meritocracy; it's an incestuous bog of politics and vested interests.

Why else, after all Ireland have achieved, would the ICC still only be offering the jam of Test cricket tomorrow (or more precisely 2019) if - and it's a big one - if you can win the InterContinental Cup for a fifth time in six editions, and then beat the lowest-ranked 'Full Member' in home and away series.

Why? Why not embrace the tireless efforts of not only William Porterfield's team on the field, but also CEO Warren Deutrom's backroom staff at Cricket Ireland? There are now 45,000 people playing cricket on the island, a four-fold increase in eight years.

Let's expand the game - what are you frightened of ICC? What's the worst thing that could happen if Ireland were allowed to play a few Test matches?

One by one the hastily-constructed arguments to oppose Ireland's elevation have been answered or dismissed.

"Ireland's success is based on one 'golden' generation." Would that be the generation of Trent Johnston, Kyle McCallan, Andrew White, Jeremy Bray and Andre Botha? All those giants of Irish cricket are now retired and half this World Cup squad are under 25.

"The team is full of Australians and South Africans." This came direct from the mouth of a sports editor in London at the very moment a TV screen above his head was showing Kevin Pietersen and Ed Joyce batting for England. It was beyond irony.

It's true that Johnston, Bray, Botha and Dave Langford-Smith were pillars of the 2007 team but nine Irish-born players were in the side that beat England four years later and there are only two 'overseas' stars in the current squad - Alex Cusack and Max Sorensen.

"It's nonsense to think Ireland could win - or even draw - a Test match with Australia". Indeed it is, but the same is true of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who had achieved far less than Ireland before they were granted full membership.

Nor would Ireland want to be playing Australia, India or South Africa. Their initial tests (let's not forget where the term came from) would be against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the West Indies. Perhaps Pakistan and Sri Lanka, soon after.

It would be a learning process and it's a safe bet the Boys in Green would be quicker learners than Bangladesh, who have lost 70 of their 88 Tests, and only won seven - against Zimbabwe (5) and a strike-weakened West Indies (2).

So come on, ICC, make it happen. Drop those antiquated titles of Full Members and Associates, and sort out the arguments over money and voting rights another day.

Do it now. Let Joyce retire with at least a couple of Test caps - if not the 100 his sublime talent should have won with England. Let the next generation of Stirlings, Dockrells and Balbirnies pit themselves against the weaker Test teams.

And if they're not good enough? In a meritocracy you demote them. Send them back to the InterContinental Cup to regroup. Replace them with the best of the rest. Let Afghanistan test themselves for a few years. Or Scotland even.

By all means protect the sanctity of Test cricket by only ever allowing the best 11 or 12 teams to play it at any given time, but let's introduce new blood to strengthen the competition every four or five years - and let the first new blood be Irish.

Irish Independent

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