Ireland: What If?

Posted on March 25, 2011 by

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When the story of the 2011 World Cup comes to be recounted in Irish cricketing circles, one result will surely take on a legend of its very own. Defeating England by three wickets in Bengaluru was one of the moments of the entire tournament; let alone one in which Ireland were thrown their once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity to prove themselves worthy of greater recognition from the ICC.

The Group B table will show that Ireland’s quest for quarter final qualification was ultimately unsuccessful. And yet a tally of four points from two wins does not paint a complete picture, for the 2011 World Cup was a good tournament from Ireland’s perspective . The problem is whether, in ICC eyes, it was good enough.

Before the tournament started, I thought three wins would be enough for the Irish to qualify for the quarter finals with six points. My basic (read ‘non-existant’) grasp of net run rate probably means I was wrong, although I ask that any blame be laid at the door of England and their kamikaze form, rather than my flawed foresight. 

Having said that, perhaps three wins would have done, if you consider the results as they panned out. Ireland finished their tournament two points adrift of the West Indies and Bangladesh; the latter missing out on NRR. And yet these are two games in particular that Ireland would ask “What If…?” when looking back.

What if… Irish batsmen hadn’t balked in pursuit of a relatively modest Bangladeshi total in the first game? I speculate without considering how different things might have been and the ripples that might have been made – you know, that theory about going back in time, killing a butterfly, and altering the course of history…

In purely theoretical terms, it could have seen Ireland on six points come the end of the group stage. Again my failure to comprehend net run rate betrays me, but it appears unlikely that victories against Bangladesh, England and the Netherlands would have been enough. So we move onto the next What If…?

What if… Kieron Pollard hadn’t been the one who got away as the West Indies put on 275? And what if Ireland’s chase hadn’t been floored by Asoka de Silva and his inexplicable decision to give Gary Wilson out when set on 61? If fortunes hinge on the erroneous twitch of an index finger, Ireland are poor sods who lost out here.

But forgive my self-pitying petulance. It needed an outlet. Ireland’s World Cup may have turned out even greater but for such moments of fate, yet the bottom line is that the Boys in Green can hold their heads up high. By far the most competitive of the Associate nations, only a 131-run defeat to South Africa showed any true gulf.

Ireland, for the most part, gave the Full Members some ill-tasting food for thought. England were brushed aside; India were dragged into the 46th over by a dynamic fielding display – a feature that permeated Ireland’s campaign; West Indies found a fortuituous extra gear in Pollard; and South Africa were 117-5 at one point.

For all intents and purposes, Ireland are every bit a comparable force to that of Bangladesh. And I believe that this Ireland team may just edge the Bangladesh team as it was when awarded Full Member Status. But how can we adequately test their ability if they’re consigned to another 4+ years as the big fish in a small pond?

Ireland aren’t even guaranteed to feature at the next World Cup, so what comes now for them? A three-way tournament with Sri Lanka and Scotland in July and a visit by England in August are pencilled in. Pakistan are touring for two matches in May. But I won’t be the first to say that the Irish need more. Ireland deserve more.

The ICC needs to take a leap of faith with Ireland. You might even get more of a contest between Ireland and Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, or even New Zealand and West Indies than you would between those four and India, England, Australia etc. My concern is the unjustified waste of talent that could happen if Ireland aren’t given that chance.

I’ll spare you the almost obligatory comparison with Kenya, and the slide that befell Steve Tikolo’s generation after the momentous 2003 World Cup. But if George Dockrell or Paul Stirling’s international future comes in an England shirt, then what’s the point in spreading cricket’s gospel?

Not so long ago, cricket was mooted once again as a potential Olympic sport. There is little chance of that happening if not enough countries are seen to take part. And how can countries expect to take part if they’re going to be given an occasional chance to shine before their best players end up in the England team?

I am on the verge of digressing wildly, but I shall finish by making a desperate bid to haul myself back to the point – if the ICC hasn’t seen enough of Ireland’s potential after two successful World Cups, then maybe they never will. And if they never will, then what chance of cricket’s closed shop ever opening for business?