Time to treat everyone with respect
It is 46 years since overseas professionals returned to club cricket, initially in the NCU, but then in all the provincial unions in due course. Thatís a long time and there have been many twists and turns concerning their presence, but surely we have reached the stage when there is a general acceptance of their presence and value to the Irish game? And surely we can now stop talking about non-nationals, foreigners, hired guns, overseas mercenaries and so on in a derogatory way?
The world has moved on and so has cricket since 1978 and yet many of our diehard cricketers are still in a time warp over the presence of overseas players, Irish qualified or otherwise. Admittedly Dublin seems to have moved on better than northern clubs, but it seems the old debate that raged in the 80s is destined to stay with us forever given some of the narrow-minded and parochial comments we see on websites.
But does it matter any more whether your team at club or interprovincial level is home grown because the rules allow for a complete range of player and if you stay within the rules arenít you doing it for the good of either your club or your union or indeed your country? Where would Irish cricket be today without the well-documented exploits and contributions from Trent Johnston, Andre Botha, David ĎLankyĒ Langford-Smith, Jeremy Bray et al? And we should add National Coaches Mike Hendrick, Adi Birrell and Phil Simmons to that list because each has made a significant contribution to raising the Irish game to a new level.
There is a certain disrespect in some quarters about how people talk about overseas players and the increasing number of them participating at club level and also qualifying for Ireland. Jackie Charlton showed us the way a few years ago when his ďDoes your granny come from IrelandĒ strategy took Ireland to the World Cup centre stage and if anyone has doubts about its massive contribution to national pride and football development then compare those days to whatís happening today. Chalk and cheese come easily to mind.
We all have our views on professionalism in Irish cricket, but like or loathe it, the presence of paid players is here to stay. You sink or swim in the modern game and a lot depends on how you manage professionalism either locally or from overseas. But one thing is certain-you canít eliminate it. And why should we? The benefits greatly outweigh the negatives and the skill at club level is getting the balance right to suit your club.
It is not obligatory to recruit professionals, but you arenít going to succeed without them so if you want to move in the higher echelons of the game then you have to get on the gravy train. The situation is a little different at national level, but Iím sure Phil Simmons relishes the opportunity to select from a bigger panel of players boosted by qualified players than depend on local produce.
And heís not alone at the highest level because England has enjoyed a huge contribution from qualified players down the years and been able to snipe some of our best players in the process. They havenít done anything wrong either-they have simply made the most of the rules.
And therein lies the reality of modern cricket. You have to make the most of what is available and cast aside the old dinosaur parochial thinking. Does anybody at Arsenal, Man United or Liverpool care where a player was born these days?
They simply want a stronger team and success as they have moved with the times and understand the modern game. Roy Hodgson might think otherwise, but cricket is more flexible on qualification so the comparison starts and ends at club level.
In more recent times there has been some controversy about the players selected at interprovincial level, particularly relating to non-qualified players, as it wonít benefit Ireland. This is a hollow argument given they strengthen weaker teams, provide stronger opposition and as a result help raise the standard. After all, what benefit is it to the competition to have a huge disparity in the quality of the teams or to dilute a strong Leinster team to make matches closer?
Right now the Warriors and the Knights have to make up ground on the Lightning and they are doing it. Leinster doesnít win every match and although they have a very strong squad it wonít benefit anybody to split it. There is more mileage in bringing Munster into the fold with reinforcements. We can look at Irish rugby for comparisons as the great Munster teams of yesteryear set the standard that Leinster and Ulster had to reach and they have successfully rose to the challenge. Connaught has continued to lag behind, but they have advanced from near extinction to be competitive, which is no mean achievement.
Perhaps the challenge for cricket is to get Munster to a similar level?
We certainly donít want a team comprised of overseas professionals in the Interprosí as it is too artificial and a Development Squad removes the passion of representing your union. Perhaps some of our visionary website Ďexpertsí could come up with a Munster team that has a Munster identity in its selection and players of sufficient quality to make it competitive? Rugby has shown us a way to do it so the task is not impossible.
These are the important issues that confront modern cricket not the parochialism and negativity associated with derogatory comments about a playerís origins or the number of home grown players on a team that has been well beaten on the field. Time to move on and step up to the plate. Time to treat everyone with the same respect and to build a new culture within Irish cricket that is multinational and non-discriminatory in outlook and deed.
Letís forget where a player comes from and treat him as a fellow cricketer. That way all cricket will benefit.