As the two-match ODI series between Ireland and Sri Lanka gets underway today, it would be interesting to note the similarities between the cricketing stories of the two nations. Both the Emerald Isles took off rapidly after modest beginnings on the cricket scene.
Sri Lanka’s ascent to the top tier of international cricket is the perfect motivation for Ireland to break the glass ceiling that pervades the game. Sri Lanka announced themselves in their second World Cup in 1979, when they upset India by 47 runs in their last group match. Test status was duly achieved in 1981-82.
Soon after, India were at the receiving end of Sri Lanka’s first Test victory as well. Test cricket’s newest entrant claimed the 1985-86 series against India with a 149-run win in the second Test at Colombo. In spite of inconsistency in the ensuing years, Sri Lanka had shown enough prowess to justify their elevation to the longer format.
In the build-up to the 1996 World Cup, the Sri Lankans had developed into one of the most feared ODI outfits. So much so that they were one of the contenders to lift the trophy. They did not disappoint, as they went unbeaten throughout the tournament, eventually dispatching Australia in the final.
Led by the astute Arjuna Ranatunga, the island nation enjoyed the finest moment of its cricket history. Sri Lanka were World Cup champions within 15 years of becoming a Test nation. Their quick rise has arguably been international cricket’s biggest success story in the past three decades.
A combination of sheer talent and passion for the game has translated into a strong cricket culture in Sri Lanka which brings its own flavour to the international game. There is no reason why Ireland cannot grow to a similar level in a short period of time. After all, it was only in 1993 that they were admitted as an Associate member of the ICC.
Sri Lanka’s rapid rise from an Associate nation to World Cup champions can serve as an inspiration for Ireland to reach similar heights (source – AFP/srilankacricket.lk)
Over the next decade and a half, they leapfrogged numerous other teams and made serious strides towards cricket’s elite bastion. Their spirited campaign in the 2007 World Cup won them a legion of admirers worldwide. Characterised by their tenacity, Ireland have gone on to beat as many as five full member teams and today stand at the threshold of the holy grail of Test match cricket.
Ireland have the capability of not just emulating, but even bettering Sri Lanka’s achievements. The spirit of the players is being backed by an extremely efficient administrative body – something which Sri Lanka have lacked for quite some time now – and an increasing commitment to make cricket a mainstream sport in the public consciousness.
Awarding Test status to Sri Lanka paid rich dividends both for the national team as well as for international cricket as a whole. With South Africa in isolation, the entry of a new team brought a breath of fresh air to the Test circuit which could have become monotonous with just the six teams playing amongst each other.
The privilege of full membership provided Sri Lanka with the security of being a part of the international calendar. Much of Sri Lanka’s success from the mid-nineties could be attributed to the constant experience they derived by playing the stronger teams after attaining Test status. By contrast, Ireland’s elevation to the highest level has been long delayed.
In spite of performing beyond expectations in limited chances, the Irishmen have been treated as outliers. There has hardly been any scope for them to hone their skills by playing tougher opposition outside of ICC events. Although things are looking brighter on this front recently, Ireland need much more encouragement from the cricketing fraternity.
Sri Lanka’s foray into international cricket brought a whole new fanbase to the game and introduced a number of fresh talents who went on to delight cricket lovers across the globe. From the pluck of Ranatunga to the belligerence of Sanath Jayasuriya, from the wizardry of Muttiah Muralitharan to the finesse of Kumar Sangakkara – the variety they brought greatly enriched the game.
Ireland have exceeded expectations thus far, defying the parochial attitude of the ICC and also the threat from major sports in the country (source – espncricinfo.com/gettyimages)
Ireland have the potential to bestow upon Test cricket their own vibrant brand. The fact that the Irish players have come thus far by defying the parochial attitude of the ICC as well as competition from the major sports in the country speaks volumes of their determination.
They could well become the next Sri Lanka in terms of talent or the next New Zealand in terms of optimum utilisation of limited resources. A two-division Test structure is being mulled by the ICC and it remains to be seen how beneficial it will be for the Associate nations.
Ireland are head and shoulders above the rest in the ongoing Intercontinental Cup, with a full 60 points from three matches. Test cricket is in dire need of novelty and a team like Ireland ticks all the boxes. However, they may have to wait for at least two more years.
With most of Ireland’s golden generation in the last lap of their careers, the next few years will be crucial for the development of the national team. The Inter-Provincial Championships have been a boon for nurturing the next batch of Irish hopefuls. The likes of Andrew Balbirnie, Stuart Poynter, Craig Young and Barry McCarthy are set to take the Irish challenge into the next decade.
The curtailment of the number of teams for the 2019 World Cup means that Ireland have to be at their best if they are to qualify for the tournament. Zimbabwe may be regressing of late, but Afghanistan have grown to become a potent limited-overs force. With the competition at the foot of the table intense, Ireland need to be at the top of their game.
It would not be far-fetched to say that as long as Ireland keep on punching above their weight, they stand a realistic chance of winning a World Cup in the next ten to twelve years. They need to look no further than Sri Lanka’s successful cricketing journey for inspiration.