Thrilling revival bodes well for Inter-Provincial series
Three-day matches to play vital role in Irish bid for Test status
Kevin O’Brien was at his big-hitting best in leading Leinster Lightning to success over the Northern Knights in the opening game of the RSA Inter-Provincial Cup. Photograph: Inpho
If “start as you mean to go on” was the intended maxim of the new RSA Inter-Provincial series, then last Monday’s thrilling opener between Leinster Lightning and Northern Knights ticked all the boxes.
Sunny weather, a perfect host in The Hills Cricket Club and, of course, a match that went to the last over as Leinster skipper Kevin O’Brien rescued his side from defeat with a brilliant unbeaten century made it as exciting a game of domestic cricket as has been seen in recent years and a sparkling revival of a competition that went out with a whimper back in 2004.
Of course the 50-over and T20 games will attract the crowds throughout the summer, but it’s the three-day competition that will prove the most important in the long-term goal of Ireland becoming a Test-playing country. The attainment of first-class status for the Inter-Provincial Championship is a key part of that process and one which will eventually be decided by the International Cricket Council.
Cricket Ireland hope to be able to apply for first-class status for the Inter-Provincial Championship from 2015 as part of the process of gaining Test status by 2020, the key target of their strategic plan. To help achieve that goal, the ICC has made funding for a first-class structure available through the targeted assistance and performance programme.
The three-day competition provides its own conundrum for Cricket Ireland, in that they will have to balance the stated goal of bringing talent through to the senior team, while also maintaining a standard of competition that can be considered first-class.
If you draw comparisons with the development of the provinces in rugby since professionalism, the careful selection of overseas players has proved vital in the success achieved and Cricket Ireland will have to look at bringing in top quality international cricketers to increase the standing of the Inter-Provincial Championship in the coming years.
And if the players coming in are Irish qualified, or intend to become so, well then all the better. For next week’s game, Leinster have called in Railway Union’s Patrick Collins, a 24-year-old all-rounder from Queensland, who possesses an Irish passport thanks to his Cork-born father. His selection comes after he became just the fifth player in the 94-year history of the Leinster League to score a century and take seven wickets in a match.
Collins may even turn out for Munster at the Mardyke in inter-provincial competition one day, with Cricket Ireland well aware of the need to grow the competition from the present three sides . A Munster side competing in the Twenty20 section of the competition would be the obvious target, while the continuing development of the sport in Connacht aimed at the same objective.
In that respect the launch last year of the RSA National Cup was a welcome addition as a secondary competition to the Irish Senior Cup. Both competitions have their first rounds tomorrow, with 17 counties represented and games taking place in 13 different counties.
Fixtures such as County Kerry hosting County Sligo at their new home at Tralee Leisure Centre or County Galway travelling to take on County Clare provide a perfect outlet for sides around the country to test themselves in All-Ireland competition.
In the RSA Ireland Senior Cup, The Hills begin their defence of the title with a huge home game against NCU side Instonians, who include Ireland internationals Andrew White and James Shannon, while Eugene Moleon will be looking to keep his good form at the ground after an impressive performance for the Northern Knights on Monday.
Already looking strong favourites to win Division Two of the Leinster League, Clontarf will fancy a run in the competition and get their campaign underway at home to Ballymena at Castle Avenue, while last year’s beaten finalists Merrion face a tough away trip to an in-form North West side Coleraine at Sandel Lodge.
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