Ireland’s men’s Test debut ended in a loss to Pakistan but the country’s top cricket administrator is confident the game can become a “major sport” on the domestic scene within a decade.
Ireland were eyeing a miracle at Malahide when, having been made to follow-on, they reduced Pakistan to 14 for three on Tuesday’s fifth morning only for the tourists to eventually chase down a target of 160 for a five-wicket success.
“We’ve always said Test cricket wasn’t the end of the journey, it’s the beginning,” Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom explained after the match.
“We’ve probably done this the wrong way around. Most teams, they get very good at what they do domestically then they make a big noise globally. We’ve made a big noise globally and are using that as a means of driving popularity and visibility of the sport back here in Ireland.”
Gaelic games, rugby and football dominate the Irish sporting landscape but Deutrom is convinced cricket, with its international reach, can make its mark.
“We’re not going to suddenly be the biggest sport overnight but if I look back where we were 10 years ago to where we are now, and trace the potential for us over the next five, 10 years, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be a major sport in Ireland,” he insisted.
While England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves has come under fire for suggesting none of the sport’s current formats appeal to youngsters, Deutrom is looking to the limited overs game to help build a fanbase.
Cricket superpower India come to Ireland for two Twenty20 internationals in June and Deutrom said: “We need to keep playing (Test cricket) because why otherwise would we have sought the status? But we don’t want to do too much of it. It’s going to be financially unsustainable.
“The Irish public has only ever really existed on a diet of ODIs (one-day internationals),” the Englishman added.
“We’re really looking forward to the huge games against India coming up in June. I think we’ve nearly sold out the second game, which is 8,000 people, which is fantastic.
“The opportunities to grow the game will come primarily through the white-ball game but we still want to keep in contact with the Test format. It’s our way of maintaining our connection with the tradition of the sport.”
‘Do the right thing’
There are concerns over whether Ireland have the playing depth to build on an impressive run of results that have included World Cup wins over Pakistan, England and the West Indies.
Several members of the team that played in the Test match at Dublin’s Malahide Cricket Club are in their 30s, with opener Ed Joyce, who has scored 47 first-class hundreds, nudging 40.
But Deutrom is confident Cricket Ireland are establishing structures beneath the national side – including the three-team inter-provincial first-class competition – that will allow the likes of batsman James Shannon to step up when the ‘golden generation’ finally call it a day.
“We’re now into the sixth season of our inter-provincial competition,” said Deutrom. “It was a risk because we could set it up and then we weren’t going to get any funding to make it sustainable. Hanley Energy have come in to make it sustainable.
“We set up an academy at the same time as well, in 2013.
“Are we doing the right things? Yes, I believe we are.
“Now that we’re on the FTP (Future Tours Programme) we’re going to have the opportunity to have more reciprocal arrangements with the major countries to make sure we give the next tier of players opportunities, not just in our inter-provincial competition, through the academy but then also to have A team cricket to make sure when we’ve got guys coming into the international team there as ready as they can be.”