Exposure to more top-flight international fixtures crucial in Ireland’s learning curve
Lack of games at highest level can show when the going gets tough
A dejected Trent Johnston at the end of the second RSA Insurance Series ODI at Castle Avenue last Sunday. Photograph: Kieran Murray/Inpho
A rather subdued atmosphere hung in the Clontarf Cricket Club pavilion last Sunday night as those left at the ground following the two-wicket victory to Pakistan discussed what could, indeed what should, have been.
Gone are the days when running one of the Test-playing nations close in a One-Day International would have been celebrated long into the night by Irish players and supporters alike.
No, the mood was a lot more sombre after seeing a possible first series victory over one of the big guns slip through Ireland’s hands in the closing 10 overs as Kamran Akmal launched himself at the home attack.
It wasn’t the first time that the former Limavady professional had taken apart an attack on this island, or indeed in international cricket, as hopes of another historic victory over Pakistan were torn asunder.
Despite being one of the top bowlers in English county cricket, Tim Murtagh received a stark reminder of the step up to international level as he saw his last over go for 24 runs to end any hopes of a home victory.
The Middlesex player was one of seven county-based players in the Ireland side on the day, with the exposure of so many of our top players to full-time cricket in England a vital strand in the development of the team as a real competitive force on the international scene.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq was certainly impressed with the performances by Ireland between the exhilarating tied game and the two-wicket victory for his side, and he backed Cricket Ireland’s long-term ambition to compete at Test level, something they wish to achieve by 2020.
“I think they are really an improved side. And they really played very well. The way they are improving I think they can compete with any team, any Test playing nation now,” said Misbah at the end of Sunday’s game.
The problem for Ireland lies in not getting enough exposure to the big boys of international cricket and, hence, learning just what’s required to get over the line when the pressure comes on at the very highest level.
Since Ireland was granted ODI status in 2006, they have played just 14 ODIs in seven years against the top sides if you discount the two World Cups in 2007 and 2011.
Pakistan, a side forced to play their home game outside their own country, have played almost that number already this year ahead of the Champions Trophy appearance next month.
As well as showing off Ireland’s competitiveness, last week’s two games against Pakistan showed that an appetite exists amongst the public here for top-quality international cricket.
England’s visit here in September will be the real gauge of that interest, with Cricket Ireland hoping for a crowd in excess of 10,000 for the first ODI to be played at the new international ground at Malahide.
And it’s not just the traditional Irish cricket followers that should be targeted as the large amounts of Pakistani supporters who call Ireland home, and helped generate such a fantastic atmosphere at Castle Avenue last week, cheered on the likes of Kevin O’Brien and Ed Joyce nearly as much as their own cricketing heroes.
The new Malahide ground will host its biggest match to date tomorrow when Leinster Lightning take on the North West Warriors in the RSA Inter-Provincial Cup (10.45am), a match that is likely to see the return of John Mooney to representative cricket.
The North County all-rounder missed the first game of the Pakistan series through suspension and was surprisingly left out of the second game as James Shannon came in to make his ODI debut.
As competitive as they come, Mooney will be keen to show national coach Phil Simmons that he deserves his place back in the Ireland team ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifiers against The Netherlands at the start of July.
Leinster player/coach Trent Johnston will sit out tomorrow’s game with tendonitis in his right Achilles, with the in-form Railway Union all-rounder Patrick Collins taking his place in the squad.