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Ireland are on the cusp and ready to Test themselves in the fast lane

By Ian Callender

Cricket Ireland plan to hit the ground running if, as expected, they are granted Test status at the International Cricket Council’s Annual meeting in June.

The head of world cricket, ICC chief executive Dave Richardson, has given the go-ahead for two more teams to join the sport’s elite at the top table and CI chairman Ross McCollum is determined that Ireland will be ready.

The outcome of the first ICC board meeting of 2017 could hardly have been more positive for Ireland with agreement “in principle” on a new governance and financial model and a revamped structure for all three formats of the game.

At Test level there will be a nine-team league run over a two-year cycle with the “three remaining Test teams (Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan) guaranteed a consistent and confirmed schedule of Test matches against all other teams”.

In the one-day game there will be a 13-team ODI league, from 2019, run over a three-year period leading to qualification for the 2023 ICC World Cup and although it is now probably too late to organise an extra World Twenty20 for next year, there will be a regional T20 competition structure as a pathway to qualifying for future global events.

A scheduling summit will be held next month — at which Ireland will be represented — and a detailed proposal will be put to the next ICC Board meeting in April.

“I don’t want anyone to think we are taking things for granted — because we most definitely are not — but if it was to happen we have to be ready to hit the ground running,” said McCollum. “We need to have our plans in place. There is no point being given the go-ahead in June and then taking another six months pulling together your plan.

“All the proposals have still to go before the board in April and then the AGM in June but I’m hopeful that everything is moving forward the way we want and, although there is no guarantee, my glass is more full than this time last week.”

The fact that the ICC press release, following last week’s board meeting, published so many conclusions however is a huge positive. These releases are normally bland and lacking in any substantial detail but it would appear to be all systems go for a new era of international cricket and Ireland will be part of that new era.

McCollum though is urging a “steady as we go” policy, especially in the Test arena after Ireland’s opening game — likely to be at Lord’s against England in 2019, a fixture already promised verbally by the chairman of England and Wales Cricket Board.

“We must be careful how much Test cricket we want to play in the first few years — and not just because it comes at more cost than any other format of the game,” said the chairman.

“If we play two or three Tests a year, against Zimbabwe or Afghanistan, that would be quite sufficient, so while we can look forward to playing the top nine in Test matches in the future it will give us breathing space to get used to playing Test cricket, and making sure we are at a decent level before joining what is, in effect, the Test League,” he added.

The ODI League, however, will guarantee Ireland white-ball series against all the top nations, home and away, with Twenty20 internationals likely to be tagged on.

Automatic qualification for World Cups will still be guaranteed for only the top eight teams at a cut-off date in the league so Ireland, certainly in the short-term, will still have a qualifying process to go through to reach global events but, finally, the pathway is there. The glamour fixtures should come thick and fast.

There has never been a better time to be an Ireland cricketer.

Off the field it could get even better for Cricket Ireland because among the proposed changes to the constitution to go before the AGM is the “potential to include additional Full Members (Ireland and Afghanistan subject to both meeting the Membership criteria)”.

That criteria is set to be made public in the next couple of weeks and it is McCollum’s “assumption that we will meet that criteria”.

Full Membership is worth more than £10m per annum and that would be a bonus which even Cricket Ireland Chief Executive Warren Deutrom could not have imagined in his wildest dreams when he set out Ireland’s vision for Test status just five years ago.

Meanwhile, Ireland took a first step towards this summer’s Women’s World Cup yesterday when they beat Zimbabwe by 119 runs in their opening qualifying game in Colombo.

They play Sri Lanka today and India on Friday but victory over Thailand on Saturday should be enough to confirm their place in the Super Sixes.

The top four qualify for the finals in England.

Scores:  Ireland 237-6 (50 overs, K Garth 63, L Delany 47, C Shillington 30, C Joyce 26) Zimbabwe 118 (37.5 overs, K Garth 3-24, C Metcalfe 3-38, R Lewis 2-7, A Kenealy 2-19). 

Ireland won by 119 runs.

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