The Irish are well known for having communities everywhere in the Western world. Repeated waves of Irish have left the homeland, often due to economic pressures, limited opportunities at home and the simple desire to see more of the world. Some estimate 100 million people have left Ireland over the past two centuries, a figure that massively outstrips the number of people living on the Irish island. It speaks to a culture of leaving to survive, with so many going, what must those who stay feel about their prospects at home?
This is, of course, a cricket website, so its time to get to the point. Cricket is just another facet of Irish society where the opportunities don’t exist at home, so their best are forced to leave in order to advance their careers. As was the case for many waves of the Irish diaspora, this is not the fault of anyone in Ireland. Rather, external forces with power over the island have conspired to exclude and marginalise the Irish.
The Irish cricket setup is by far the most professional out of all associate nations, however they are given scant opportunities to show their development against full members. Over the rest of this year Ireland will play three times against full members, twice against Pakistan and once against England. Even if they were to win one of these games, it still probably wouldn’t help their cause, as evidenced by the fact that they have repeatedly beaten full member teams at ICC events.
Now news has broken that Boyd Rankin is seeking to join Eoin Morgan in the England team. Rankin is a hugely talented and ferocious fast bowler, and would be a fine candidate for most test teams in the world. His county cricket bowling average is below 30, a fantastic return in a competitive league. Rankin has spoken about his desire to play test cricket, and who can blame him? It is the pinnacle of the sport that we all love, and he has a chance to play it if he denies him homeland. The temptation to remain committed to Ireland must be strong on a personal level, but on a professional level he is right to make the best of what limited time is available to him as an athlete.
The ICC is nominally committed to growing the game worldwide, but it is dismally failing in this mission. As Martin Williamson argued, in 2012 the prospects of associate nations diminished even further, with lucrative T20 leagues pushing them off the fixture calendar. Greed, pure and simple, is costing cricket the chance to develop into a truly global sport. Imagine the boost cricket would get if a fraction of the millions of Irish descent were given a real chance to cheer for their mother country.
Players leaving Ireland is a symptom of a wider problem. Afghanistan, Holland, Canada, Scotland and Namibia are also promising nations who aren’t being given the opportunity to develop. The message being sent by the full member boards with regard to associates is very clear, they are second class nations. The ICC, which alas, is dominated by the boards of full member nations, must realise that their sport will stagnate and die if they don’t stop chasing short term cash over long term development. They should not continue to confine associate teams to the ghetto of the Intercontinental Cup, rather they should show some real leadership and force full member boards to play against associate teams.
For starters, the Irish should immediately be granted test status, and tours should be scheduled against New Zealand, Bagladesh and Zimbabwe. Secondly, all full member nations should be forced to commit to playing at least 5 games against associate nations every year. They could be in any format, they could even send out second string lineups, but the matches would have full international status, and woe betide any full member who gets embarrassed being complacent against an associate nation. Thirdly, all players who are eligible for an associate nation should be granted an amnesty to return and play for them, ensuring that they have the talent required to test the full nations.
With those measures, cricket would become a much more vibrant, dynamic and global sport. This is a crucial moment for the game, either it can choose to spread across the entire world, or it can choose to become a niche sport, uncared for outside the few nations who play it. Cricket could have the global appeal of basketball or football, instead those who currently control the game seem content to let it become rugby league. The Irish should be the test case, if they are given the opportunity to become a test nation, perhaps the exodus of cricketers can be reversed, and Irish cricketers will have a reason to go home.