International sporting events need surprises and underdog stories to keep them interesting. And the Irish chose to provide it in this World Cup. They were, in no uncertain terms, the favourite amongst the neutrals, and amongst the Associate countries, the only team that showed that they belonged in a global competition of elites. Their performances were an impassionate plea against the ICC’s decison to cull the number of nations playing the World Cup from the next time.
Cricket in Ireland is not a very popular sport. It ranks low on any list of Irish hobbies, preceded by gaelic football, association football, rugby and even golf. Having been a team of amateurs for a while now, the Irish for the first time in their history came into the competition with a talented bunch of professionals, many playing in professional leagues just across the Irish sea in England.
Things are changing in Ireland, and its proof was evident in some of the most exciting cricket they have ever played. Building on where they had left off in the last World Cup, which was a great campaign where they defeated Pakistan to make it to the second round, they almost pushed every Full Member team till the end, this time around.
And they finally got around making quiet waves back home too. The team made it to the front page of Irish newspapers and, of course, newspapers in every cricket-loving nation, with one of the most exciting comebacks and upsets in cricketing history. Kevin O’Brien, the 27 year old all-rounder, chose the match against big brothers England to play the greatest knock of his life. It was a knock so spectacular that he might just end up spending the rest of his career living up to it.
Ireland has been a feeder country to England. Lack of infrastructure, money and opportunities has often led to good cricketers seeking greener pastures in the county cricket of England, followed by a chance to play in the English national team with a regular contract. Gavin Hamilton of Scotland did so in the last decade, and so did Ed Joyce of Ireland some years ago. Ed Joyce is now back in the Irish team, (though he failed to spark himself to life in this tournament). Irish players Boyd Rankin and George Dockerell are under the scanner of the English board at the moment, while the very Irish Eoin Morgan is in the English squad, ironically after playing a major role in getting Ireland into the World Cup this year. For many of the Irish cricketers, England is where they eventually gravitate, not because they wish to but because they have to. Opportunities and the realistic need to play on a larger scale trump minor concerns of loyalty.
But the Irish have made a statement in this edition of World Cup. The lucrative sponsorship deals might soon find their way there, though most of it depends on how the ICC chooses to deal with this potential we have seen and loved so much. The Irish played most of their World Cup fearlessly (with their hair dyed, I might add in support of the Irish Cancer society) and with crowds that were more often than not behind them, know that they have made their point. Though there is a lot to rue about, and it is a surely a good sign for a team that every lost opportunity is regretted. From the Gary Wilson LBW to the collapse against Bangladesh, from the decision to hide Dockerell against the West Indies, to the lack of consistency of their pace bowlers. Everything should be analyzed, because the Irish just missed out on making history.
Hopefully, the ICC will recognize the leaps that Irish cricket has taken and ensure that it all doesn’t fade away like the former giant-killers Kenya and almost-rans Zimbabwe have. And cricket fans like us can only hope that we get to see some fresh exciting countries playing regular One Day Internationals. Ten nations playing each other all through the year does lose its sheen after a life time of watching the game.
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