Professional structure brings its challenges
Professional structure brings its challenges
The idea of an Irish first class cricket structure is one that has been mooted throughout Cricket Ireland circles for a long time but it is one that became a real possibility nearly 12 months ago when it looked as though the ICC would restrict the number of teams in the 50 over World Cup to ten.
Had the ICC not made the decision to make room for two associate nations in the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Cricket Ireland could have sued for a rather large sum of money. The thought process at Head Office in Clonshaugh was that the eventual windfall would open the door to Irelandís first taste of a professional domestic circuit where homegrown talent could be nurtured rather than the current scenario which sees the best players shipped off to various counties for their shot at the big time.
Now, itís hard to see this ever eventuating for a number of financial and logistical reasons, however I believe it certainly has its merit. Thereís no question that if Ireland wishes to be a test playing nation they must have some existing domestic structure where three or four day matches can be played to groom players for the longest form of the game.
At present, the busy nature of Ireland Aís fixture list in England means that a specific group of capable players are being given an opportunity to improve their understanding of multi-day cricket which is admirable, but a first class structure is imperative to develop the depth required to take on the ten best cricket nations from around the globe.
I also believe that it will open the door for better training facilities (which is a must) and more experienced coaches from across the globe will see it as an opportunity to further their own development by sharing their knowledge with local players and coaches. Most importantly, it opens the eyes of club cricketers to the standards required of professionals and the mindset required to achieve consistent performance.
If Cricket Ireland does indeed view this as the next step in its plan to advance the game in the Emerald Isle, then there is no doubt they are coming to grips with the potential effect a professional structure will have on the working manís game.
For me, the best example to draw upon is what happens at home in New Zealand and the news isnít always good for club cricket. In New Zealand, there are six first class playing teams and my current home association is Auckland.
The Aces are our professional team and they have a squad of about 22 players to draw from across the three formats of the game. These players have a full five month schedule of matches for the Aces which means the best players are never seen at club level (a similar comparison with Irelandís best county players).
Meanwhile the players on the fringes of the squad are often told by Aces management that it is preferable that they didnít squeeze in matches for their club team in the middle of a busy professional schedule in case one of the selected twelve goes down injured Ė regardless of whether that player is a bowler or a batsman.
The major exception to this rule is international opener Martin Guptill who turns out for his club side Suburbs New Lynn at every opportunity Ė even in the days following New Zealandís historic first test match win over Australia away from home in 26 years in November 2011.
If this same trend of professionals picking and choosing when they can and cannot turn out for their club side continued in Irish cricket after the advent of Ďprofessionalismí then the club game would be greatly affected.
Currently, the media coverage of club cricket in Ireland far outweighs the time and space club cricket receives in the media in New Zealand. We would never have a club match at home where in excess of 100 people were present, clubs donít provide tea during the interval for opposing sides, clubs bars are poorly attended and there just isnít the same passion in numbers that the club game has in Ireland.
This is clearly the strength of the game in this island and it must be protected in some way. Due to the geographical layout of New Zealand, we are also unable to run national cup competitions in the way Ireland is able to.
It is a young mans game in New Zealand and that is effecting the development of young players through their club teams and in their provincial sides. Club cricket is merely the platform to the next level of second XI cricket and then into the professional realm.
Here, they are the backbone of the game and that is a fact that must be both treasured and respected. I would hate to see the current club cricket way of life in Irish cricket be lost because of the inevitabilities of the modern professional game.
Thereís a lot to be gained from blokes like Jimmy Govan (current Malahide CC player and former Scottish international) who are still limping around the fields of Leinster at 40 plus years of age. You canít buy experience and itís the number of old hands in the club game here who hold the key to ensuring the younger breed learn their trade in a competitive environment.
Professional cricket in New Zealand has somehow resulted in the loss of these seasoned veterans and it would be a crying shame for that to happen here, too.