Written by Sriram Veera | February 10, 2015 10:06 am
Ireland’s big WC moment came in 2007 when the debutants upset Pakistan to make the Super Eights. Professionals have replaced amateurs since then and though still short on experience, the team can be counted on for a surprise or two, part-time filmmaker and big-time fan Paul Davey tells Sriram Veera.
A pensive Trent Johnston pulls aside the shower curtain to see if any murderer is lurking behind it. Every night. It’s Jamaica 2007, Bob Woolmer has died a day before, murder allegations and other murky speculations are floating in the air, and Johnson was losing it.
Johnston was the Ireland captain then and his team had just beaten Pakistan but the morning after brought them terrible news of death. Johnson shares his fears with Paul Davey, the man who travelled with the team and made a documentary of Irish cricketers’ journey through that world cup. “Here we were celebrating the famous win, partying till the wee hours of morning in a hotel room and when we woke up we were hit by this dark news,” Davey carries the story forward. The team, he says, couldn’t wait to get out of Jamaica after couple of days.
A few weeks before setting out for the World Cup, Davey was at a small pub in Dublin when Paul Mooney, a seamer who played one world cup game before announcing retirement, drove in on a tractor. “It wasn’t the vision I would have associated with a cricket player. No Rolls Royce! He came in a tractor and said he had to get back to work on a farm quickly. The very first cricket player I met for the documentary and there he was rolling away in a tractor.”
It didn’t really shock Davey. After all, that Irish team was a bunch of amateurs, playing for fun and pride, caught in a dreamy world of sports for a brief while and emerging with memories that would stay with them for the rest of the lives. Just like Davey. Cricket was bound to reflect the nature of the society then, he says.
Cricket was largely viewed as an upper-class sport with allegiance to England, says Davey and so it was never that popular in Ireland. The internal conflict in Ireland before the recent peace process also of course didn’t help. “I remember one of the players who refused to play a match in Northern Ireland because they were flying the British flag in the stadium.” Times are changing though. “Now things are different after the historic peace process in Northern Ireland.” It has helped cricket to flourish as well.
“I see it getting more democratised. Peace process in Northern Ireland has made a huge difference. People are tired of old stereotypes and cricket was last association with that stereotype of British. The number of cricket clubs in Ireland has grown massively since 2007. It’s now spreading though I must re-iterate it’s still not a wildly popular sport. But I see more and more kids playing in the parks. The upper-class part of the sport is getting dismantled.”
Cricket had a precedent in rugby, according to Davey. “Our Irish rugby has started doing well in the last 10 to 15 years but once upon a time it also had a similar association of being looked as a British sport. No longer, though. Hopefully cricket too will thread that path to popularity.”
So how have the Irish taken the sight of Eoin Morgan, the man who helped Ireland qualify for that 2007 World Cup before shifting allegiance to England? “People understand the money factor and are especially lenient as they know that Ireland don’t have Test status. But if we had a Test status, I would think there would be lots of backlash against cricketers going to play for England. That would be something different. Now people understand that the sportspersons aren’t able to play at the highest level and money isn’t good but if there is a Test status, or Ireland gets to play more international cricket in general, then things will be looked differently.”
The dynamics of the team has changed over the years, though, says Davey. “Most of the cricketers these days don’t have day jobs. Instead, they have contracts. It wasn’t the case in 2007. What made that team unique was also how their coach Adrian led them. A fantastic man-manager and a leader, he went about selecting the team based on personalities. In some cases more than quality of cricket itself. He went by chemistry in the dressing room and the gut. The squad appreciated that and they gave it all. Adrian was the soul of that team.”
Davey recognises the first game against Zimbabwe as the most important match. “It was our first game in 2007. We were out of the race actually and Ireland had to try contain Zimbabwe batting. And they just kept at them, kept catching and fielding so swell and it went down to the last ball tie. That was the most important thing. That gave so much confidence going into the Pakistan match.”
The Woolmer aftermath shook them but there were also some lighter moments that Davey remembers. Like the team’s logistic manager trying to fish out a cricket ball from a river in Guyana. “The balls were scarce, you see and so he entered the waters and tried to net it out! He was cursing and muttering all the way and all this was in my documentary. Much later, when he and I were watching the documentary on BBC, his little grand-daughter, who was also in the room, suddenly asked, “Grandpa, I thought we were not allowed to curse!”
Davey isn’t holding out much hope with the current team, though. “They might be more professional but they are very inexperienced. These guys haven’t played tough games. I am not sure if we have the gut for the fight and the big heart. We may be surprised you never know…” Davey isn’t going to be there in Australia, though. He is studying for masters in business administration in Dubin and can’t travel but he will be watching every game on the telly.
“I am kind of sad that if we see the squad, I know less and less players. We had a great adventure, such a great journey that would never be repeated again. There is a talk that the 2007 team members might meet for a dinner event in South Africa later this year, hosted by Trent and Adrian. Hopefully we shall get together. May be, I shall get my camera.”