My friends know I have a fridge magnet at home, bearing the legend, ‘ Everyone is entitled to my opinion.’ So when Rustom invited me to do a piece on Irish cricket… I didn’t take a great deal of persuading.
You need a few bits of background about me to get the drift of my piece.
I grew up in the UK, and during my early teens I regularly biked 20 miles (each way!!) to watch Worcestershire play. Those were the glory days of Kenyon , Graveney and D’Oliveira. In my late twenties, I discovered I was a Cork / Scouse (Liverpool!) mongrel (another story for another day) a key factor in moving to Ireland in 2004. Settling into my new home in Kerry I wondered how often I would need to travel back to UK for a cricket ‘fix’. 18 months later, I discovered that Ireland had a cricket team (really??) and had qualified for the World Cup in West Indies. (what???) My better half and me decided we HAD to go. We went! And, since that incredible (17/3/2007) victory over Pakistan, we have been staunch CI fans.
Do you recall an outburst by Gareth Batty back in 2009 when he still played for Worcester? I had already converted to being a CI nut by then, but still had a soft spot for my old ‘home’ county. Batty’s insult – he remarked publicly that the difference between Worcs & Ireland was ‘obscene’, outraged me threefold. First, because of the depth of ignorance and inexcusable bile against the team I supported most strongly. Second, because this statement was from a member of a cricket team I had been proud to support for decades, and third, because the spitefulness of his remark typifies that elitist attitude that infects cricket, particularly certain areas of English cricket, in such an insidious way. I will return to this theme later.
BTW, Peter Connell had the best answer to Batty’s taunt. He took 5 wickets for 19 helping steam-roll Worcs for 58, that was 94 runs short of the target set by Ireland!
This link for the full card:-
(scroll down to 20th May 2009.)
Things are moving, cricket-wise, in Munster. I got dragged in to a handful of the T20 league games here in Kerry in 2012. In spite of the fact that I’m old and decrepit AND wasn’t much cop as a cricketer in my younger fitter days, I was good enough. They just needed people who knew which way round to hold a bat. There were five teams in the league that year, but in 2014 there are now 8 teams playing in 2 divisions. Kilcolman (who I played for) is currently the hot favourite for promotion. Current captain Jason Huntley now has talent at his disposal that was nowhere to be seen a mere two years ago. Elsewhere, Clare have recently beaten one of the Cork County squads, and Limerick prevailed over UCC. Cork County and Quins both run 3 squads while Limerick and Midleton are not alone in running two! These guys may not be ready to take on Pembroke or Waringstown tomorrow, but there’s lots happening down here!
On the 29th of June, I watched County Kerry thrash Cork County (3rds) by 95 runs in Tralee. The Cork men bowled well enough to restrict Kerry to 183 off 40 overs, but with the reply at 33 for 5 at the end of the 11th over the outcome was more or less decided. More worryingly for the visitors around half of their runs came from wides! With a bit more early discipline, Kerry could have had half the Lee-siders back in the hutch for less than 20 runs. The tail fared better taking the score to 88 at the fall of the last wicket. Was this just a bad day at the office for the Cork boys? Maybe so, but it’s clear that Kerry has improved dramatically in the last two years.
More significantly, Cork County senior squad are proving to be strong contenders for promotion in the Leinster league this year. Currently second in Division 2. More evidence of growth AND improvement in Munster.
There’s no doubting the validity of Cricket Ireland’s claim that participation in our sport continues to increase across the country. It certainly IS happening in Munster, and the mood music about embracing the southern province in the highest form (Interpros) is very encouraging. Ger Siggins is hugely respected as one of the best of a fine crop of Cricket writers, and this piece shows that serious consideration is in progress.
BUT dear reader… did you sense a ‘BUT’ looming over the horizon? Fantastic news… BUT, is ‘serious consideration’ enough?
In the interest of balance – Odran Flynn – another highly respected scribe with great understanding of Irish cricket sees it slightly differently to me:
“There is no point in adding Munster at present because quite simply they would not be competitive and the value of the Inter-pros would be undermined by distorted performances. Munster has targeted 2016 to join the T20 element of the competition and that is a more realistic ambition and hopefully a lot more Ireland qualified players will be available to them by then”. (Flynn – 30th June)
I would argue that more needs done, and done sooner.
I don’t disagree substantially with Odran – I think the 2016 target for Munster is realistic. But, could more be done sooner?
A lack of top level coaching was an issue mentioned by one of my player pals. He felt that there was talent in Munster who could really benefit from the, ‘finishing school’ approach. Of course, for all we know, that may well be a work in progress.
For 2015 a Munster XI (even with a few itinerants if need be) could be given ‘warm-up’ duty for the current trio of Interpro squads – much as the Universities in England do for the counties. This would give Munster a chance to measure themselves in the run up to participating fully the following year. Indeed, what about a North v South (invitational/ friendly/ whatever) t20 with 5/6 Munster lads playing with 5/6 from Leinster. I agree with Odran though on not being TOO fussy about the make up of the squads.
Of course, the central focus of the Interpros is preparation of individuals for international duty – but to some extent that is also fulfilled by playing alongside top level cricketers who aren’t specifically Ireland qualified. Gary Wilson (now skipper of Surrey!) has rubbed shoulders with Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Tillekaratne Dilshan & Kevin Pietersen already this year at Surrey. That must help Gary himself – and in turn, of course, that helps Ireland.
I don’t believe for one moment that elitism is a problem for Cricket Ireland. And, we most certainly do not have that delusional arrogance which mars England’s selections – supporters – and the PR skills of certain spin bowlers. But we should have a care. Munster has made great strides towards parity. And even if not fully achieved yet – that is no reason not to applaud and encourage their endeavours. Personally, I’d be happy enough if the Munster Inter-Pro squad included a retired international and a couple of Leinster youngsters. Let’s not over-think this, let’s not be too ‘picky’ – let’s just get on with it.
Ireland is suffering from lack of match-play opportunity in the run up to the 2015 World Cup. And we all know that is not because of lack of effort from Deutrom and his team. We all know it’s down to ICC elitism. So, let’s make sure we don’t treat Munster the way ICC treat us! Grass roots cricket is alive and well in Munster, and in the same way that Ireland need opportunities against better sides to progress at international level, so Munster needs more opportunities in order to progress to InterPro status.
We (by which I mean ALL enthusiasts of Irish cricket) need to demonstrate clearly that we are actively encouraging the up and coming areas – not just for the health of Irish cricket, but so we can show other countries in general how it’s done; and show ICC in particular that we really do have a healthy and growing culture of cricket in this country.