Ireland’s unlikely journey to receive Test StatusJames Nixon |
Stop a local on the streets of Dublin, Belfast, or Skibbereen and ask them if they can name a member of the Irish cricket team. The likely answer will be a shake of the head and a shrug, with perhaps a slight recognition that Irish cricket is now a ‘thing’, and that perhaps there is a team doing ‘something’ in some corner of the world. A stroll around any of the green, leafy parks that serve the cities, towns and villages of the island rarely offers the sight of kids setting up stumps or practising their leg spin. The hurl and sliotar, the football and rugby ball, are still the props of choice for today’s young dreamers across Ireland. But cricket’s star is on the rise, with the national team knocking on the door to mix it up with the big boys.
While great Test playing sides like India and Australia will have loftier ambitions than Ireland, the team’s rise is nonetheless remarkable given the history of the game on the island. ‘Foreign’, or ‘British’ games have often been greeted with suspicion in the Republic of Ireland, summed up by the infamous Rule 42 of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) that prohibited non-Gaelic Field Games in GAA stadiums up and down the country. While that rule was recently relaxed for the Republic’s soccer team as it waited for a new stadium, it serves to highlight some of the opposition to games like cricket and indeed the complex relationship between the peoples of the British Isles. The rise in popularity of cricket is something of a reminder of the healing that has taken place from all nations in recent years.
Today, Ireland’s Cricket team have Associate Member status of the ICC and are regularly cited as the best side outside of the Test playing nations. They currently rank 12th in the ODI rankings and come inside the top 20 of the T20I rankings. Since qualifying for their first World Cup in 2007, they have appeared two more times and made the Super 8 in the 2009 T20 World Cup. Their dominance of other Associate members is summed up by the fact that they have won the ICC Intercontinental Cup four times since 2005.
Just like the international rugby side, the Irish cricket team is representative of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. International games have been played in locations both north and south of the border. The team is coached by former New Zealand coach John Bracewell, who aims to lead the team to Test status by 2020. The star player is undoubtedly all-rounder and vice-captain Kevin O’Brien. He holds the record for fastest ever century in a World Cup, hitting the ton in just 50 balls against England in 2011. Records like that for an Irish cricket player would have been almost unthinkable just a few decades ago.
According to the William Hill Sports betting site, Ireland are rank outsiders for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup. While few punters would give them a chance against the likes of England, South Africa or Australia, the fact the team could even be there is something of a novelty to those watching on from the Emerald Isle. In a land where sporting and cultural relations with the neighbours from across the Irish Sea have often been strained, the fact that many Irish are finally embracing this great sport is something to be celebrated.