I do believe that the Associate world is better resourced and serviced than ever before. The ICC Development Programme was launched in 1997 and has now grown from 26 to a very healthy 95 nations which form the Associate and Affiliate world. The ICC committed around $65 million in the first cycle and this budget has been increased to $300 million to develop the game from 2016 to 2023. That's serious cash to make a significant difference.
I am confident that Richard Done, head of the ICC High Performance Programme, will ensure that all the associate teams will be better prepared than ever before this Qualifier. I know the impact that this HPP investment had during my playing career and it provided a massive boost.
Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland and any other associate nation who wants to sit at the top table of international cricket must now take this qualifying pathway in order to compete at ICC CWC 2019, which will be hosted by England. The method of qualification isn't ideal and will be challenging but looking at the previous three 50 over World Cups, Ireland is best-placed to 'make the cut'.
Nothing has ever been easy for this cricketing nation and its Associate and Affiliate brothers, so proving the governing body wrong one more time must be its focus. The cricketing world outside of the top 10 is crying out for expansion. The players, coaches, administrators and most of all the fans deserve this. The pathway offered may not seem fair to the 95 AM teams, but that's the way it is and the rewards for those that qualify will be monumental.
The importance of Test cricket to Ireland has been debated for years and is the ultimate goal for the team driving this cricketing nation forward. Test cricket has been one of the key objectives in its strategic plan. Ireland has dominated the long format Intercontinental Cup competition since its inception having won four titles in six series. This suggests that it is capable of holding its own in the world of Test cricket.
I would back an Ireland team at the peak of its powers and even a well-balanced squad like Afghanistan to achieve this in 2017/18 against a FM ranked 10th. In my opinion, Test cricket will always be the pinnacle for a cricketing nation, the defining moment of its existence.
The ICC has now created a pathway to give an Associate nation the chance to play Test cricket and that is massive. For some of my former teammates it may be too late, but for the young lads, what an opportunity to play against the best and wear that shamrock with pride into the Test match arena.
As a player born and bred into the longer form of the game in Australia, and who then moved to Ireland and chased a dream of playing in a World Cup, I would love nothing more than to know that in two or three years I could be watching Ireland playing Test cricket.
Imagine playing at Lords in mid-May, a sold out test in Capetown with Table Mountain in the background or even a New Year's test in Sydney. The prospect gives me goose bumps even as I write this.
While Test cricket is still a long-term goal, and the 50 over qualification a hurdle, T20 now offers AMs the easiest pathway to the top table with places open for six Associate teams. The ICC World Twenty20 2016 is scheduled in the window between the traditional World Cups and will be played in India. Should the Associate teams perform well in that tournament the players could earn significant prize money and possibly even invite interest from IPL franchises.
This format of the game has the potential to generate greater interest in a non-traditional cricket country like Ireland where, let's be honest, cricket is still a minority sport that doesn't get the recognition that it deserves. T20 is quick and always guarantees a result which, for the novice, is exactly what they are looking for!
Hopefully this year will bring Ireland the results that it is hoping for too....