Ireland cricketers are now on the road to top table
Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom has expressed his surprise but delight at the prospect of Ireland playing Test cricket within five years.
The International Cricket Council has confirmed that the winner of the next edition of the Intercontinental Cup – a competition which Ireland has won four times, most recently last December – will meet the bottom ranked Full Member in a four-match play-off series (two home and two away). If the Associate nation comes out on top, they will become the 11th Test nation.
The timescale and format of the next I-Cup has still to be decided but with it now being a pathway to Test match status, it is likely to be either a six-team or eight-team tournament, played home and away, between mid-2015 and the end of 2017.
The play-offs will be completed by the end of 2018 to allow the winners to arrange Test matches for the next cycle starting in 2019.
Two years ago, Cricket Ireland revealed its 2020 vision to be granted Test status but it if the team retains its position as the No 1 Associate, it will be realised two years early.
And, with the original proposal for Bangladesh and Zimbabwe – currently ninth and 10th in the Test rankings – to take part in the I-Cup likely to be shelved, Ireland will need to only repeat their success against fellow Associate teams last time to reach the play-offs, with Zimbabwe the likely country standing in their way of Test status.
And that is a country Ireland would be confident of beating in any format.
Deutrom admitted yesterday that he did not expect such a straightforward pathway to the top.
He said: "In 2012, we envisaged an uphill struggle with our objective to become the eighth best team in limited overs cricket as a means and an argument to show we are capable of competing at the highest level in the longer form of the game.
"In the last year, however, the structure has moved much more quickly than we expected and now the winner of the next Intercontinental Cup could be playing Test cricket by 2019."
And, although still unconfirmed, Deutrom expects there to be another significant change for the next I-Cup.
"With the competition now having context and its purpose to allow the leading Associate the opportunity to play Test cricket, there will have to be a mandatory release for all our county players.
"In previous I-Cups, we have invariably had to play without them during our summer but with it now being the pathway to Test status, we will have to talk to the counties and, of course, the players to make sure we have our best team on the field for every match," added Deutrom.
At this stage there is no guarantee of Test match opponents – India and Australia, to name but two, are unlikely to be on the radar in the short term – but Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, said immediately after the original proposal was revealed: "If Ireland do qualify for Test cricket, England will guarantee that we play them."
At the time, sceptics suggested that it was a 'spur of the moment' comment which should be taken with a pinch of salt but Deutrom said yesterday: "Giles Clarke does not make unguarded comments. I expect the ECB to be as good as its word and anything he said was carefully considered in advance."
Meanwhile, Ireland will go into the international leg of their West Indies tour with a competitive win under their belts.
The team may have exited the Nagico Super50 tournament after the group stage but at least they finished their campaign in Trinidad with a win, albeit at the third attempt, over defending champions the Windward Islands by 64 runs.
The squad have two Twenty20 games against local opposition on Thursday and Friday before flying to Jamaica on Sunday where they will play West Indies in two Twenty20 internationals and an ODI.