Cricket Ireland edge closer to Test team dream
Cricket Ireland is one step closer to achieving its dream of fielding a Test team after the International Cricket Council awarded the country's domestic competition first-class status.
The decision to elevate the standing of the Inter-Provincial Championship was taken by the ICC chief executives' committee at the governing body's board in Cape Town, following a request by Cricket Ireland.
First-class cricket is seen as a necessary requirement for aspiring Test nations and has long been a hurdle to overcome.
Having been the leading associate nation for several years, qualifying for and impressing at several ICC world events, the news is just reward for Irish progress.
Ireland hope to play their first Test as early as 2019 - with neighbours England the mooted opponents - as discussions over expanding the format continue.,
CI chief executive Warren Deutrom said: "Playing first-class domestic cricket is a significant milestone on our long-stated journey to become a Test nation and is what the full members do - if we want to be considered among the front rank of nations, then so must we.
"It's important as firstly it elevates the perception of the competition and places the inter-pros statistically and status-wise at the same level of all first-class cricket around the world in established Test nations.
"At the moment, the matches, while hard-fought, are no more than friendlies, so even monumental performances such as Nick Larkin's 247 not out and Adam Dennison's 206 (both for the Northern Knights) count for nothing in the game's statistical records.
"Bestowing first-class status places these achievements in the game's official records and allows players to start accumulating career statistics, and puts them in the shop-window for opportunities overseas. These same opportunities can also now apply to the officials standing in these matches."
John Bracewell, Ireland's experienced New Zealander head coach, was also delighted with developments.
"First-class cricket is the vital link between part-time cricket and the full commitment of the international game," he said.
"It is connected to your value in world cricket, historically. This to me is key for Irish-based players willing to make the sacrifices necessary to reach the standards required to compete at the pinnacle of our sport.
"Over the last two seasons watching domestic cricket in Ireland I have seen consistent performances from top-quality cricketers who deserve to have these recognised. The standard of play is not only highly competitive but also first-class in its output."
ICC chief executive David Richardson said: "Cricket Ireland's Inter-Provincial Championship is well structured and provides a clear pathway for players from under-age through to inter-provincial to the national team.
"The Championship is professionally run, played mainly in international standard venues and some games are live streamed and I'd like to commend Cricket Ireland on the work they have done to achieve first-class domestic status."
Ireland have also been awarded 500,000 US Dollars by the ICC to help arrange and host one-day international and Twenty20 fixtures, matching last year's funding.