Two tier Test Championship should be considered ahead of 2017
Ireland’s dominance in the Intercontinental Cup bodes well for step up
Ireland’s 279-run victory over the Netherlands in Deventer qualified them for a fourth Intercontinental Cup Final. Photograph: Rowland White/Inpho/Presseye
Ireland’s comprehensive 279-run victory over the Netherlands in Deventer on Wednesday booked their place in December’s final of the Intercontinental Cup with a game still to be played.
It will be the fourth time Ireland have made the final of the first-class competition, running out winners on the three previous times they have got to the decider, in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
An 18th victory in 30 games, with just two defeats since the tournament began in 2004 sums up Ireland’s dominance in multi-day cricket at Associate level, although Afghanistan are unbeaten since their introduction in 2009, including a victory over Ireland in the Sri Lankan jungle outpost of Dambulla in 2010.
Ireland could be in line to exact some revenge in December’s final in Dubai, with Afghanistan in second place in the table with a key game against third-placed Namibia coming up in Windhoek at the beginning of next month.
The Intercontinental Cup has been good to Ireland on many levels, not least in introducing players to a form of international cricket that allows for development of skills that will stand to them in other formats of the game.
Merrion’s John Anderson was the latest to take advantage of the opportunity, with his knock of 127 in the first innings against the Dutch showing the South African-born batsman has both the skill and application to play at the highest level.
December’s final may mark the end of the event, with the International Cricket Council yet to decide on the future of the competition, with the cost and logistics of four-day cricket proving considerable, with eight teams involved.
The outcomes from last weekend’s ICC annual meeting at Lord’s offered some hope that multi-day international cricket will remain at Associate level, with news that the first World Test Championship will be staged in England in 2017.
The idea of a two-tier Test Championship has also been mooted in recent years and there’s no doubt a full-strength Ireland side – six County players were missing from this week’s victory over the Dutch – would hold their own with the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. And if Afghanistan can continue their development going now that they have earned Associate status, the ICC could be looking at a viable second division of Test cricket.
With a busy schedule of internationals coming up for Associates in the next two years, including World Twenty20 qualification and final tournaments in the next year and the 50-over World Cup in 2015, the ICC has time to frame up a second tier Test competition ahead of 2017.
A final Intercontinental Cup that saw the top two promoted to a second division of Test cricket would be a fitting tribute to a great competition.
Ireland’s attentions now move to the two World Cup qualifiers against the Dutch in Amsterdam, where one victory may be enough to secure a place in Australia and New Zealand.
George Dockrell’s performance in taking career best figures of nine for 71 in the Intercontinental Cup victory is a huge boost to coach Phil Simmons after the left-arm spinner had a quiet start to his second full season with Somerset.
And Simmons will be hoping the return to Ireland colours of skipper William Porterfield will also reinvigorate his game after the Warwickshire opening batsman’s struggles with the bat so far this summer.
Porterfield has yet to record a half-century for club or country this summer, although an average of over 45 against the Netherlands, including three scores over 50, could provide the motivation he needs to kick-start his season.
Porterfield is one of a number of players who made debuts under former Ireland coach Adrian Birrell, who was officially confirmed yesterday as assistant coach to his native South Africa.
The 52-year-old stepped down from the Ireland job following the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, leaving a rich legacy that has been developed further by Simmons in the intervening years. A couple of good results in Amsterdam over the next week for Ireland and a 2015 World Cup rendezvous may be on the cards.