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Ireland start momentous week on brink of reaching top table

By Ian Callender

Ireland will find out on Thursday or Friday if they are to become the 11th Test match nation.

Cricket Ireland chairman Ross McCollum, an ICC board member, left yesterday’s Annual Meeting in Dundalk early to fly to Dubai for a week of meetings which will decide if Ireland will have to continue to beg for one-day internationals with the world’s best or if they will become a member of the game’s elite, with guaranteed fixtures until 2023.

Before leaving, McCollum told the delegates, they are the “most important meetings Cricket Ireland have ever been involved in” but stressed “there are no guarantees”.

He went on: “Full membership for Ireland and Afghanistan (their main rivals in Associate Cricket) is the proposal on the table and with it a significant amount of money which will be a game changer for Irish cricket.

“As well as Test status, we would be part of a 13-team ODI League, with guaranteed fixtures every year as well as the sale of TV rights. At this stage, we wouldn’t want more than 3-4 Tests a year because it costs around £250,000 for every visiting Test team.”

But one sentence by McCollum underlined just how far Irish cricket has come in the last few years. “If I had suggested the possibility of playing Test cricket even three-four years ago, men in white coats would have carted me away,” he told the meeting.

There may be stumbling blocks ahead, the chairman added, but the fact the ICC chairman, from India, who is in favour of change, is now back in post after stepping down “for personal reasons” gives McCollum “great encouragement” that he will return from the UAE as the chairman of a Test nation.

Any decision taken by the ICC board this week has still to go be passed the AGM in June but that will be a fait accompli. They will not go against a board recommendation.

For now, McCollum has not compromised on Full Membership status — worth significantly more millions than just Test status — because Cricket Ireland “tick all the boxes” for full membership of ICC.

The fall-back, if the board renege on their “agreement in principle” for change at February’s meeting is that the winners of the Intercontinental Cup are given a four-match Test challenge against Zimbabwe next year which they must win to claim the 11th Test place, but this week that is not on the table. Afghanistan are currently in pole position in that tournament after last month’s victory against Ireland.

Brian Walsh, the former NCU chairman and Ireland Under-19 manager — he led them to four successive World Cup finals from 2006-2012 — took over as Cricket Ireland president, while Sam Beckett, David Griffin and Michael Howard are the new members of the board. The union’s rules were also amended to allow McCollum, who has already served five years as chairman, to remain in the post as long as he is an ICC board director.

Meanwhile, on the field, Ireland Wolves made it three wins out of three in T20 action to conclude their English tour.

Scores: Ireland Wolves 190-7 (20 overs,  Singh 97, Getkate 36, Grassi 26) Gloucestershire II 128-5 (Singh 2-25).

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