FOR AN Irish cricketer, fulfilling Test ambitions historically meant crossing the Celtic Sea and representing the old enemy. Just ask Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin. The days of having to give up the Shamrock for the Three Lions though might finally be over. Ireland could well be on the cusp of becoming a Test nation if the potential restructuring of international cricket that was ‘principally agreed upon’ at the ICC’s chief executive’s committee (CEC) meeting last week comes to fruition.
Warren Deutrom has been Cricket Ireland CEO for over a decade now and is no stranger to the ICC headquarters. And he admits to have often been left “depressed” over the years owing to the “narrowness of thought” in certain discussions regarding the associate nations at previous CEC meetings. But for once, he sounds excited.
He’s all-too familiar with the heartbreak and frustration that comes through when having to let go of the best cricketers in his land because Ireland simply couldn’t provide a shot at Test cricket for them.
Deutrom remains pragmatic though about Ireland’s Test future insisting that it’s not quite “fait accompli”. Irish cricket might have reached a point where it could dare to dream but he still admits to be “cautiously optimistic”.
Deutrom does, however, believe that Test status could well be the final solution to plug the talent drain.
“Our aim has always been to grow Irish cricket to the extent whereby our players say, ‘yes we might want to go and play county cricket’ but we don’t want to play anymore for England,” he tells The Indian Express.
While Morgan and Rankin, who’s now back representing his land of birth, did take the plunge, Deutrom believes all-rounder Kevin O’Brien, who’s chosen to stay back without having to compromise on making the most of greener pastures overseas, has changed the traditional thought-process among high-profile Irish cricketers.
When he’s not donning Irish colours or playing for his provincial team, Leinster Lightning, O’Brien is a globetrotting big-hitter in the various T20 leagues by making the most of the Irish team’s leisurely international calendar.
And according to Deutrom, he’s earning much more than what he would by being tied to a particular county team.
“The new structure also allows us a chance to be part of a 13-team ODI calendar, which means our players will get home and away fixtures against the top teams. Plus playing the World T20 once every two years, and now the biggest incentive, Test cricket. There’ll still be time though to go and play the T20 leagues,” says Deutrom.
Virtual second tier
In all likelihood, Ireland will spend their nascent years as a Test nation fighting it out routinely against the likes of fellow new-comers Afghanistan and strugglers Zimbabwe in what would be a virtual second-tier.
Though it might not sound like the most exciting prospect, it will at least allow the new teams to find their feet before eventually taking on the big boys.
There’s also the possibility of occasionally facing an Indian or Australian team if they agree to replace a warm-up fixture with a county team while touring England with a Test against Ireland. Deutrom though is confident that his team will cope better with the challenges of the longest format even if history doesn’t suggest they will.
“Unlike when Zimbabwe and Bangladesh came into the fray, our boys have been playing constant first-class cricket with the Intercontinental Cup, not to forget our own provincial four-day competition which has been running for a few years,” he says.
After years of having been made to basically sit on the sidelines and watch the ‘full’ members take the final call on their behalf even with regards to their own future, Ireland and Afghanistan might also finally get to have their own say.
“Generally our votes were noted but not really counted. But I believe the associates have finally started winning some battles and ensuring that cricket doesn’t remain a sport only about 10 countries,” says Deutrom.
He, however, doesn’t guarantee that the grass will ever completely cease to be greener on the other side of the Celtic for good. But there’s one “glittering prize” that could be the ultimate game-changer.
“There’s been talk Ireland playing a Test at Lord’s against England as a curtain-raiser for the Ashes in 2019. That is the dream motivating most of our players.”