Following up on the success of the National team in the 2007 World Cup, the Irish Cricket Association, Cricket Ireland (CI) have taken the first steps to joining the ranks of the Full Members of the ICC.
Although they do not have any immediate plans to make a jump up to the highest level of the game, CI are clearly intent on taking the steps that will lead to them eventually playing Test cricket.
Performances on the field in the shorter formats of the game have shown that Ireland have made huge strides in terms of the abilities of the national team, and the defection of the likes of Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan to play international cricket for England has shown that there is a need to be able to offer the best Irish cricketers a higher standard of cricket, whilst still retaining their roots and being in a position to play for Ireland internationally on a regular basis.
CI has quite a battle on its hands to educate and entertain the Irish pubic, for whom cricket is still very much a minority sport, and to generate the sort of funding that would enable the team to work on a full-time professional basis.
Indeed, part of that struggle will be in terms of getting the right level of television coverage, something that would be enhanced by achieving Full Member status and becoming a regular fixture for touring teams.
Some cynics might suggest that the last thing that cricket needs at the moment is expansion, and that the ICC should concentrate on maintaining the playing standards for existing members, but this is both selfish and short-sighted.
One of the current needs of the game is to have a balance of fixtures for the lower ranked teams so that they can continue gaining international experience and exposure without being trounced in every series—adding Ireland to the mix would provide appropriate opposition for the likes of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Kenya (who should also be considered good candidates for elevation).
Others may suggest that this would lead to a two-tier structure in world cricket, but we effectively have that already, with Bangladesh’s only Test victories coming at the hands of Zimbabwe and a severely weakened West Indies side.
As the top ranked Associate Member, a position that Ireland have held for about five years, they deserve to be given consideration for Full Member status, and the ICC should act accordingly.
This doesn’t mean that they should issue such promotion immediately—CI still have work to do in some areas to ensure the future of the game and that the infrastructure they have in place is sustainable—but the reasons for refusing the application in the medium term look to be receding fast.
The biggest obstacle might yet be political, despite the feeling of CI’s Chief Executive Warren Deutrom that the members of the ICC committee who consider the application would be fair-minded. Bangladesh’s introduction in 2000 added an important vote for the Indian-led bloc within the ICC, and Ireland’s ascension may be seen as a challenge to that.
Overall though, if CI can meet the criteria that the ICC have specified, and their on-field performance continues its current progress, I hope that we will see Ireland playing Test cricket sometime in the next decade.