After a competitive week in Bangladesh where they showed lot of promise, the Irish fell flat in Sri Lanka succumbing to one of the biggest defeats in Test Cricket. But, above all, it raises a question how can they improve and ensure their relevancy in longer format
On a raging April day with immense heat on a pitch that was turning, Sri Lanka pounced on Ireland like a hungry tiger on its prey. Starving for a Test to win, they dominated the Test right from the beginning without giving Ireland any chance to repeat their impressive performance of Mirpur Test. Their batters made hey against the Irish bowling which struggled like any visiting team on the first day of the Galle Test. However, everyone had expected Ireland to show some fight after giving up 591 -6 to the host. The Irish batters though capitulated in both the innings without showing any stomach to fight.
Ireland played their first Test in 2018 and since then has played 5 Tests in 5 Years. Their main challenge has been getting regular opportunity to play Test Cricket. However one thing which cannot go unnoticed is that they have lost all the 5 Tests. If they wish to play regular cricket they need to be consistent in their performance. Yes, cricket is a cruel game and number of teams have struggled in initial years be it India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, or South Africa. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe struggle continues till date, in the longest format even after having 2-3 decades of experience. Test Cricket especially is hard on newcomers, it takes years to learn and then gives the fruitful results .
While all these factors ensure that Test cricket experts and fans have lot of sympathy towards the Ireland Test Team, a thing that needs to be understood is that Cricket has changed considerably since 2008.
With huge success of the T20 format, the fans of the format and the advocates of the shortest version of cricket has considerably increased. This has posed new challenges to Test cricket.
The followers expect a quick result and those who invest money in the game especially the broadcasters don’t want to earn losses. It is the reason why Ireland and Afghanistan have more pressure to perform in Test matches with thin chances of opportunities.
While providing more opportunities to these new entrants’ lies on the International Cricket Council (ICC), playing well and justifying these opportunities is on the respective member. So what does Ireland need to do to improve their game?
- Setting up a robust First Class System: The most important step which Irish cricket authorities need to take is to set up a First Class domestic system which will help their players to get more accustomed with longer version of the game.
While Ireland have bemoaned of not getting opportunity to play more Tests but they have also barely invested in their first class cricket. It’s quite a coincidence that they received the Test status and played three Tests between 2017- 2019. A time during which their domestic competition was awarded First Class status and for three years (2017-19) competition held regularly. However as Covid pandemic struck and the Irish Cricket authorities decided to shift their focus to profitable ventures i.e. limited over cricket. From 2020-2022, Ireland didn’t organised Inter-Provincial Championship, their first class domestic tournament. It was also a coincidence that they didn’t play a single Test during this duration.
If Ireland has to become a regular force they need to invest in their domestic structure.
- More A team Tours: One of the important way to develop any team is organizing A tours to other countries. New Zealand and India have been able to set a very good team in the past decade or so it’s because they have focused on organizing more A team tours. These tours get the young players experience of the conditions and prepare them for rigors of International Cricket. Ireland needs to organize these tours to ensure that their players get in hand experience of all the conditions.
- Making Cricket major Sport: Ireland is a small country but rich in sporting culture. While Cricket has made a significant stride, it has yet to make a major base among Irish public. The board has to take steps to get the game popular among the public. Organization of more domestic games, ensuring players reach to public so that the next generation idolizes them, are some of the steps that has to be taken by the authorities who are in control of the game in country.
Ireland will be playing couple of Tests in next few weeks, both in varied conditions, one in Sri Lanka and other in England. The next assignments post them are still uncertain, in such a scenario, the team has onus not only to learn but to punch above their weight.