Ireland's path to Test status opening up
JUST six weeks after their all-conquering 2013 ended in Dubai with their third trophy success of the year, the Ireland squad are off on their travels again, but with a significant step-up in the quality of opposition.
William Porterfield's squad have proven once again they are out on their own as the leading Associate nation and their reward is an invitation to the West Indies to take part in the Super 50 Regional tournament, followed by two Twenty20 internationals against the world champions and a one-day international. And it could be just the start.
A draft paper, to be discussed by the ICC board at their meeting in Dubai next week, includes the possibility of the next Intercontinental Cup winners – Ireland are the holders – playing the eighth team in the Test Match rankings in a four-Test series, with a place among the elite as the prize.
The next but one ICC World Cup, in 2019, is likely to have automatic qualification for the top eight in the One-day rankings in the previous year – Ireland are currently 11th – so a pathway to the top seems to be opening up as the sport's governing body finally accepts there is life outside the Full Members.
National coach Phil Simmons, who returns to his homeland for the Nagico Super 50 in Trinidad, knows it is the start of an exciting time for his squad.
"It is a great boost to get invited to the one-day tournament, the second-year of this sponsorship, and if we do well it could be a regular invitation," says Simmons.
"I don't follow the action too closely back home but Trinidad and Barbados would appear to be the two strongest sides in the competition and we have avoided them both in the group stages (Ireland will play Guyana, Jamaica and the Windward Islands).
"It's only four matches guaranteed, but if we reach the final – and that will be our aim – it will be five and that will be great preparation for the international games which follow in Jamaica.
"They will be the most important games because ranking points are up for grabs and we want to put pressure on the teams above us."
Simmons admitted that although Andrew Poynter and Andy McBrine are part of the 14-man squad, their selection was not based on the recent A-team tour of Sri Lanka when "the opposition was nothing to write home about".
Ireland squad: W Porterfield (capt), A Cusack, G Dockrell, J Mooney, T Murtagh, A McBrine, K O'Brien, N O'Brien, A Poynter, M Sorensen, P Stirling, S Thompson, G Wilson, C Young.
Itinerary: v Guyana (Jan 31) v Jamaica (Feb 3) v Windward Islands (Feb 7); v West Indies T20 (Feb 19) West Indies T20 (Feb 21) West Indies ODI (Feb 23)