By Conor McNally
Irish cricket will be given ‘transformational’ test cricket status this month, according to a leaked report.
Irish cricket has had unprecedented success in the last ten years, but their goal of obtaining test status – allowing the team to play in the longest and oldest format of the game – has until now remained unrealised.
That could be about to change as proposals to allow Ireland entrance to the elite club of global cricket are set to be ratified at an October meeting of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The Chief Executive of Cricket Ireland Warren Deutrom, remained circumspect on the issue and urged caution since nothing is certain until the proposals are approved by cricket’s governing body.
However, he described the potential attainment of test status for Ireland as ‘transformational’ in terms of public awareness of cricket and future revenue from being a test playing nation.
“I think the perception is that both within the game and externally test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport,” said Deutrom. “It is what the major nations in the sport do, and because the major nations play cricket by definition, Ireland playing test cricket means they become a major nation in that sport. Therefore, the perception of Ireland’s position within the game and within Irish sport is that it is a sport that is deservedly with the major sports in Ireland.”
Currently test cricket is played by ten countries. These are considered ‘full members’ of the ICC and are the only nations who can play recognised five day games known as test matches.
The proposals on the table will allow for the top two nations not playing test cricket currently – known as ‘associate members’ – to become full members with their first test matches to be played in 2019.
Ireland and Afghanistan are currently listed as the top two associate counties and would be the first countries to become full members for almost twenty years.
Cricket politics are notoriously complicated with financial issues and real life politics often coming into play. If Afghanistan does become a full member they will join Pakistan in being unable to play home games in their own country because of security issues.
Deutrom is aware of these issues and has pushed hard for the associate nations to have a cohesive message when lobbying the ICC.
“The fundamental philosophy that we have been trying to push as Ireland and a group of associate nations is accountability. It’s about making sure that the opportunities to play matches, opportunities to access events and the funding that comes as result of that is given on a meritocratic basis and not necessarily conferred by virtue of entitlements or membership and that’s the key philosophy behind everything,” Deutrom explained.
Getting test cricket does not mean all Irish cricket’s problems are now solved. The game is only played by about 50,000 people, the vast majority of whom are in the Dublin area.
Expanding the reach of the game and making it perceived to be less elitist is a major challenge for Cricket Ireland.
“We need to look at whether or not the transition from young cricket to club cricket to more senior cricket is good enough. We need to look at cricket played at school level, are clubs getting into our local schools?” said Deutrom
“My nine year old daughter plays cricket camp at Easter and loves it. What we need to make sure is that the reason she enjoys the experience there is the same experience she has when she joins the local cricket club and plays at a more serious level and [is] asked [to] give up eight hours on a Saturday and you’re not getting too much opportunity to bat and bowl,” he said.
Expanding the reach of cricket is a major challenge in Ireland where so many sports battle for attention. Getting test status for cricket does not fix ongoing problems but it would be a valuable testament to the significant progress already made.