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There's no quick solution to testing times for Cricket Ireland but it will be worth the wait

 

Lording it: Tim Murtagh with the match ball after taking five wickets on the first morning of Ireland’s historic Test match against England at Lord’s
Lording it: Tim Murtagh with the match ball after taking five wickets on the first morning of Ireland’s historic Test match against England at Lord’s

By Ian Callender

It was the start of a brave new world. June 22, 2017, the day Ireland were granted Full Membership and Test match status by the International Cricket Council.

Eight years after Cricket Ireland's first tentative inquiry, Ireland were at the top table, one of only 12 Test playing nations, on a level playing field with England, India and Australia.

On the field, yes, but certainly not off it. Ireland were promised a significant financial injection for their new status but still only a small percentage of what the Big Three were receiving. Maybe that was not surprising, but to receive only $40million to cover the eight-year cycle, which ends in 2023, while Zimbabwe were getting $92million was a shock.

So, from the outset, Cricket Ireland knew their first few years in the big time were going to be financially challenging. Unlike their fellow full members they did not have a stadium fit to host Test cricket, or even high-profile one-day internationals.

Temporary infrastructure from stands to changing rooms had to be erected for every game - at significantly extra costs - so even when 10,000 spectators packed into Malahide in 2013 for a one-day international against England it was still a loss-making exercise for Cricket Ireland.

Undaunted, they were prepared to take the risk, and just 11 months after their elevation from Associate Member status, Ireland hosted Pakistan in their inaugural Test match.

No play on the first day because of rain - in Ireland? Never! - immediately added to the costs, with the 7,000 ticket holders entitled to a full refund. But four days later, the game was still going, and when Pakistan were 14-3, chasing a victory target of 160, Ireland were in dreamland and the world was watching.

Pakistan recovered to win by five wickets but all the plaudits went to the Ireland players and their impressive debut. Bring on the next Test.

What we didn't know then was that it would be at least three years before Ireland host their second Test and probably will have played a maximum of four more Tests in that time.

The highlight, to date, was a Test match not even on the Future Tours Programme (FTP) which gives all 12 Full Members their international schedule until 2022 - a four-day game against England at the home of cricket, Lord's.

A mass exodus across the Irish Sea saw nearly 10,000 Irish supporters in the ground on that first day, and by lunchtime Tim Murtagh had taken five wickets and England had been bowled out for 85.

It all happened in just two hours of play and vindicated Cricket Ireland's decision to apply for Test status. It doesn't get much better than that.

Unfortunately, it looks as if that will be as good as it gets for some time.

The decision by Cricket Ireland this week to postpone the next home Test match on the FTP - against Bangladesh in May - was taken because of "financial constraints", and with no sign of improvement until the new ICC financial cycle in 2023, there is no guarantee they will be in a position to host their other three matches on the FTP - against Zimbabwe in 2021 and New Zealand and Afghanistan in 2022.

There is a shortfall in the $40million promised by ICC, the hoped-for income from the Euro T20 Slam failed to materialise when the tournament was postponed, three weeks before it was due to start, and a broadcast partner went into administration, although Cricket Ireland are hopeful of replacing it soon.

The tsunami of financial setbacks was just too much for one body to cope with.

With a five-day match costing more than £750,000 to stage, it was the obvious casualty.

The T20 format - and Ireland have qualified for the World Cup in Australia next October - may have taken centre stage in the cricket world but, as the name suggests, it is the Test arena which remains the benchmark, a format which has been going for 142 years.

Ireland may have been trying to run before they could walk on the biggest stage, but the team have proven they belong and, while it may take a bit longer than expected to become regular participants, it will be well worth waiting for.

Belfast Telegraph

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