Belfast Telegraph

Ireland set sights on Test status by 2020

By Ian Callender

Cricket Ireland yesterday took the first steps on the road to competing on a level playing field with the best in the world on a regular basis.

The headline from its four-year Strategic Plan is the vision to be “a Test playing country by 2020 – nothing less”.

To reach that goal, Irish cricket’s governing body put 23 players on international contracts as coach Phil Simmons extended his for two more years and by 2015 there will be first class cricket played in Ireland with three grounds, one in each of the major areas, having the capacity to host games in front of 7,000 people.

Unveiling his company’s vision to a press conference in Dublin, CI chief executive Warren Deutrom admitted the target was ambitious but explained why the bar had been set so high.

“Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport and it is something to which we must aspire,” he said.

“As long as it is denied to Ireland we will continue to lose those players (such as Eoin Morgan) that seek that fulfilment. So we must share those same aspirations as they do.

“If Test cricket is first rate, then any other ambition is merely second rate. With our growing passion of the game and proven track record that would be nothing other than a dereliction of duty.

“Our targets are ambitious. By 2015 we see nothing less than increasing our participation figures to 50,000 (from 15,000), to be the eighth best ODI men’s team (currently 11th) and seventh best ODI women’s team (currently 10th) in the world, to be recognised as the fourth major team sport in Ireland (currently 10th) and to establish a domestic first class structure.”

Deutrom envisages a three-team, three-day competition initially, possibly as early as 2014, increasing to four with the contracted international players not needed by one of the three main unions, playing for Munster.

“We are pressing ahead with plans for the best in the North to play the best in the South later this year which itself will be the forerunner to the inter-pro series which will itself form the basis for our first class structure,” he said.

“Our targets are well under way. Malahide is on its way to attaining international accreditation.

“Elsewhere, two more development officers have just been appointed in Northern Ireland and we are in conversations with Sport NI to try and get funding to bring Bready up to international standard, with a 7,000 capacity.”

Simmons does not expect to be coaching an Ireland Test team, but said: “It’s great to be here for two more years. The team is keeping me young, the (George) Dockrells and the (Paul) Stirlings of this world. I’m looking forward to the next two years and moving forward.”

In all, Ireland will spend more than £400,000 on new contracts with internationals Rory McCann, Peter Connell and Andrew Balbirnie rewarded with ‘C’ (match by match) contracts along with the uncapped James Shannon Stuart Thompson, Max Sorensen, Shane Getkate and Tom Fisher.

As Deutrom said in his opening remarks yesterday: “It is all a far cry from my first day in office, in December 2006, when we had no playing professionals and only one other full-time staff member.”

But victory against Pakistan at the World Cup in Jamaica was just three months away.

“That was the day that sowed the seed of our ambition and gave us the confidence to look any team in the eye without fear. It gave us the drive to be better,” he added.

Test cricket is the next, natural, step.

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