For so long they had been in the shadows of the big brother the United Kingdom. For so long they were compelled to be an associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC). But they kept on performing. They kept on putting in stellar performances to spring up one upset after another at international events. Finally, their efforts were recognized and rewarded with test status in 2017. This is the story of the Ireland cricket team and their journey to becoming the 11th nation to awarded full member status of the ICC and to be playing the hallowed game test cricket.
Cricket was introduced to Ireland in the 19th century and they played their first match as a country in 1855 when they played against the gentleman of England in Dublin, Ireland. Their initial battles were against Canada, United States, South Africa and Scotland with their maiden first-class match been played in 1902. They won this match by 238 runs with Sir Tim O-Brien’s side defeating a London County side having the legendary W.G Grace in the side. They continued to play in different tournaments against Scotland and Netherlands and going on to playing against test playing nations such as West Indies. Their battles also included matches against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe for the title of the best non-test nation at that time.
Ireland became an associate member of ICC in 1993 but it was only after 2005 that they started tasting success on a regular basis. Ireland won their 1st Intercontinental cup title in 2004 by beating Kenya before ending as the runner-up of ICC trophy in 2005 to qualify for the 2007 cricket world cup. With this, the Irish gained official ODI status facing England in June 2006. Ireland has held the ODI status since 2007 and some of their greatest performances include a monumental performance to knock Pakistan out of the 2007 world cup with a 3 wicket win on St. Patrick’s Day. This was followed by an 8 wicket win over West Indies to advance to the super 8 stage of the tournament and then a victory over Bangladesh. The Irish continued to prosper with their players constantly taking part in the county, league and international tournaments worldwide. Two more impressive victories followed in the 2011 and in the 2015 world cup. In 2011 they chased down 328 against England at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium with Kevin O’Brien scoring a 50-ball century. In 2015 they again chased down a 300 plus score beating West Indies by 4 wickets in their opening match at the Saxton Oval in Nelson.
With the motive of playing test cricket, the Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom laid down a strategic plan while improving the first-class cricket structure in Ireland in 2012. The win in the 2015 world cup and continued success at ICC events hastened Ireland’s journey to test status with the ICC announcing that Ireland’s 1st test match would be at home against Pakistan in May 2018. The match will be played at The Village cricket stadium in Malahide Dublin, Ireland starting on 11th May 2018.
The Ireland cricket team consists of players from the whole of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The average age of the side is 29 plus with most of the players being around for a really long time. It will be an emotional encounter for the players who have dedicated their prime to someday achieve this dream of playing test cricket. 33-year-old left-handed opening batsman William Porterfield leads the Irish team. He is the highest run scorer for Ireland in both ODI and T20 matches and is an important player at the top of the order. Paul Stirling the 27-year-old attacking right-hander will open the batting with Porterfield. He is an attacking batsman with a highest ODI score of 177 against Canada. 39-year-old Ed Joyce who played for England in the past is their most experienced batsman and will occupy the number 3 slot. John Anderson, Andrew Balbirnie and James Shannon will occupy the middle order along with the O’Brien brothers, wicket-keeper Niall and all-rounder Kevin.
Gary Wilson and Stuart Poynter are the other wicket-keepers in the side. Tim Murtagh, Stuart Thompson, Peter Chase, and Craig Young are the pace bowlers in the side who depend mainly on the swing as their primary form of attack. 25-year-old slow left-arm orthodox spinner George Dockrell is their primary spin bowler with 22-year-old Jacob Mulder a new entry to the side a player to keep an eye on with his right-arm leg-breaks. The Irish head coach Graham Ford and the supporting staff will be chuffed to see their men take the field in whites for the first time. The Irish are strong in their batting with the lineup capable of matching up to any international side. However, there is a much evident weakness in their bowling especially with the lack of an out-and-out pace bowler who could constantly bowl around 145mph and a mystery spinner who could mesmerize the batsman. It will be interesting to see who will step up to the plate in the bowling front to take Irish cricket forward in the test arena.
Test cricket is the highest form of cricket any cricketer can aspire to play. It requires both mental and physical toughness and the ability to last 5 days through adversity. It is where the boys are separated from men and where ability, technique and endurance triumphs over being in a hurry. 11th May will be a day written in gold in the cricketing annals of Ireland. A win or even a creditable draw against the mighty Pakistanis will be a victory for the Irish and hold them in good stead for the years to come. We at premium cricket wish the Irish cricket team all the very best and hope that the Irish clover and the charms of the Irish men on the cricketing field will propel cricket Ireland to great heights.