Jon Coates, Irish Daily Mail
It would take a mighty plug to stem the talent drain to England — and Irish cricket chiefs believe that bringing Test cricket to this island is the solution.
Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom made the bold declaration yesterday that Ireland will be playing Test cricket by 2020.
He also announced a new two-year contract for national coach Phil Simmons, a strategic plan for 2012-2015 and 23 new player deals worth just under €500,000 a year, but everybody wanted to talk about Deutrom’s headline goal.
Simmons, the former West Indies all-rounder who has been here since 2007 and lost Eoin Morgan to England, with Boyd Rankin on the verge of joining him, believes Ireland have to aim for the top or face being a feeder nation forever.
‘We’re not that far from England, and Test cricket is buoyant there now, so I think it’s why we have been moving so quickly,’ said Simmons. ‘We keep seeing things that other people haven’t seen. I think we were one of the first associates [ICC associate member nations] to contract two and six players, and so on. I look forward to that day, and I look forward to it mainly because that’s the only way we are going to stop our players moving to England. You’ve given them something that a lot of players move to England for — to play Test cricket. Once we get to that stage, we’re going to keep our players and we are going to get stronger.’
Deutrom said his target was based on the remarkable strides Ireland have made in seven years since qualifying for their first World Cup, the improved governance of the game and the surge in participation numbers — he hopes to have 50,000 playing the game by 2015.
‘In the past people would have said to me: “Super Eights of the World Cup? What are you talking about?” They wouldn’t have believed the two million hits on the website either, or the contracting of players. We have achieved everything we have set out to achieve,’ he said.
If Tests in Ireland became a reality, the national side would play at the new ground in Malahide, Co Dublin, their established northern base of Stormont and, eventually, at Bready, Rankin’s former club, which will be established as a new international hub in cricket-mad Derry.
But there are serious question marks over the viability of staging the slowest form of cricket over five consecutive days in this country, where there are 13 clubs in the whole of Munster and six — mainly forged amid Galway’s Indian and Pakistani communities — in Connacht.
Another problem, apart from the climate and the likely resistance of the ICC, is the marketability of the product itself in an age of quick fixes and sport kowtowing to TV executives. Even New Zealand, ranked ninth in the world, have struggled to keep Test cricket alive and with ailing attendances, resorted to bringing Test matches to small, provincial grounds of capacities of around 7,000.
Deutrom said Ireland would follow this lead, and claimed: ‘I have no doubt that we would be selling out grounds of that size, because Ireland would be playing Test cricket.’
However, when Sportsmail asked the CEO what research had been done to identify a market for what would be a brand new form of entertainment — one-day and Twenty20 internationals are played at a greater pace than Tests, and are far more appealing to the peripheral fan — he confessed that there had been none.
But part of Deutrom’s strategic vision, he said, is a major marketing push to make the whole country sit up and take notice of cricket.
The whole notion could also be blown out of the water by the ICC, who operate a cosy clique of 10 ‘full members’ who play Tests and lap up the lion’s share of the world game’s profits. Deutrom, who has launched withering attacks on the governing body in the past despite being a previous employee and still sitting on their chief executives committee, said: ‘My personal view is that any form of the game that seeks to rigidly maintain its status quo will fail.’
Cricket Ireland are still pushing for ‘enhanced membership’ of the ICC but the first step is to create an interprovincial first-class structure — four teams will be playing each other over three days by 2015.
This is one of the key stipulations of applying to the ICC for Test status.
One reason Deutrom believes Ireland would be competitive in Tests is that he advocates the much-discussed notion of a two-tier championship of 12 nations replacing the current round robin of 10.
But according to today’s rankings, that would mean Ireland playing West I ndies, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands, knowing it could take decades to earn promotion and take on the kind of opposition who have proved they can pull a crowd on previous visits — for one-day games.