A long winter's journey to success
I had a TV set next to me at today's game at the Kensington Oval. At least one of the commentators was going on about it being hot for Ireland to play here. Does this cricketing "expert" know that the Irish spent most of January in South Africa preparing for the World Cricket League in Nairobi, Kenya that took them into February?
The Irish moved from Nairobi to the United Arab Emirates to play the deciding match of their 2006 ICC Intercontinental Cup group. Ireland won and are set to meet Canada at Grace Road, Leicester, England in May.
From the UAE the Irish went home for about two weeks, then flew to Trinidad for a couple of warm-up matches. They gave South Africa a big scare - the 13 players in a team proviso might have saved South Africa from defeat - and then beat Canada. This was a revenge win for the amazing six wicket win by Canada in the World Cricket League in Nairobi. Canada chased 309 runs to win and did it!
Well, the World Cup warm-up games gained more publicity than the World Cricket League to the global cricket and non-cricket communities. So not many people outside the players, support staffs and die-hard followers of international Associates and Affiliates (an even lower classification in the ICC's membership ranks) would know of Canada's win in Nairobi.
You will be able to read elsewhere how outgoing coach Adrian Birrell said after today's win over Bangladesh. "I am very proud of what we have achieved. We have a great squad of players. As Trent Johnston said, we are a tightly wound team."
"Five years ago we were ranked below Denmark. Now we lead the other Associates."
"I am very proud of the five years spent in Ireland. People accepted me as one of their own. The overriding feeling is we have moved forward in every year."
The squad also has a number of people surrounding it who have worked hard for Irish cricket. It was great to see some of the smiling faces after today's match.
It's almost a shame the win came over Bangladesh. Bangladesh was praised by ICC High Performance Manager, Richard Done, at a Tri-Nations series in Antigua recently for being willing to play the Associate countries. That event included Canada, who put up a good showing, and Bermuda. Done also mentioned Bangladesh's ODI series with Kenya and Scotland.
Bangladesh has been improving over the course of the last year. Birrell mentioned Bangladesh having ODI wins over Australia, and during this CWC, South Africa. There are some big gaps in playing experience for a number of the potentially up-and-coming cricketing countries.
On certain days these gaps look big on the field. On others they do not. In addition there are issues over infrastructure to help develop and administer the game.
Many of the leading Associate countries players have been progressing towards a professional level of performance in order to be able to attempt to compete at the top level.
Ireland are set to have "a couple of quiet beers" (approved by the coach), fly to Grenada in the morning and then meet Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka took part in CWC 1979 as an Associate member, as did Canada. There were 8 teams in the event. CWC 2007 included 16 teams, 2 more than in 2003.
Irish captain Trent Johnston, asked about the impact of this World Cup on Irish cricket said "Sri Lanka was introduced to one day cricket in the early 80's and won the World Cup ten years later. They turned one day cricket on it's head."
"There are a lot of guys playing cricket (in Ireland). People in hurling country are picking up bats." Progress has come from hard work from a determined squad of players and support staff whose success at CWC 2007 has produced much more publicity and visibility for cricket in the Emerald Isle.
Normally my cricket reports would be headed by the facts that Ireland scored 243 runs for 7 wickets in 50 overs. William Porterfield topped the scoring with 85 runs. He shared an opening partnership with Jeremy Bray of 92 runs in 25.3 overs. Bray took a while to get going. He made 31 runs. Kevin O’Brien came in and scored 47 runs in 45 balls, mostly in tandem with skipper Johnston, who scored 30 runs in 24 balls. Masharafe Mortaza bowled well for Bangladesh. He took one wicket for 37 runs in ten overs.
Bangladesh was going well up to the fall of their second wicket with the score on 45 runs. Mohammad Ashraful was looking threatening until out for 35 runs off 35 balls. He was the fifth wicket to fall and the Bangladesh reply was creaking. Captain Habibul Bashar battled away but never got on top of the bowling. He was last man out, bowled by opposing skipper Johnston, for 32. Bangladesh 169 runs all out. Ireland wins by 74 runs.
They did a victory lap around the ground to celebrate and pass back affection to the many West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis in the crowd. The seedings for this event had this match penciled in as India versus Pakistan. Bangladesh beat India, and Ireland beat Pakistan in the initial group stages. There was free admission to the Kensington Oval after 11 am to fill the void of seats sold on the sub-continent to Indian and Pakistani supporters who did not travel to Barbados for the Super 8’s.
It is a significant achievement for Ireland to enter the LG ODI standings. Cricket has earned visibility in Ireland as a result of this CWC 2007 and people will start to recognize the faces of some of the island's cricket players.
Remember, also, the Irish Cricket Union covers both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Or, put another way, it covers Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A great day for the Emerald Isle, one day after there was an Irish-trained winner in the Grand National, one of the major horse-races in racing in the British Isles.
What next for Irish cricket? Birrell is just looking to his last match as coach, against Sri Lanka in Grenada, one of the top team in this tournament.
And another example where sport can help bring people together.