After Ireland's memorable Test debut, Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom looks to the future.
“It’s a bizarre little thing,” says Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland’s Chief Executive, “but for some reason it’s stuck in my mind.”
The dust has barely settled on Ireland’s inaugural Test match and Deutrom, running on pure adrenaline, is trying to order the week’s compilation of memories into something coherent.
“It’s of Stuart Thompson. He’s going back to his mark after picking up a wicket and the entire stand is giving him a standing ovation.
“It reminded me so much of Test matches at Lord’s, when England have got the upper hand and watching the crowd rise to the successful bowler. And I thought, ‘God, that’s proper Test match cricket’.”
Last week in Malahide, Dublin, on a pop-up cricket ground, under portentous skies that somehow behaved themselves long enough to force a result, proper Test match cricket finally came to Ireland.
Pakistan were the gracious visitors, with a seesawing match falling their way by five wickets on the last afternoon, but not before Ireland threatened to become the first team since Australia in 1877 to win their inaugural Test match. And now they’ve had a taste of it, there’s a natural clamour for more.
For Deutrom and his growing yet still “relatively understaffed” organisation, in which its workers must wear “several hats” to keep the show rolling, this was the culmination of years of hard graft and unbending ambition.
Yet such was the symbolism attached to the occasion that it was easy to forget there was actually a game of cricket to play, and when Ireland staggered to 7/4 in their first innings in reply to Pakistan’s 310/9dec, the show threatened to turn just a little bit sour.
“It would be disingenuous of me to say I was anything other than worried at that stage!” Deutrom says, with a smile.
It’s easy to laugh now, but this was Cricket Ireland’s showcase, their week in the shop window. If putting on a grand show was one thing – securing deals with Sky and RTE, bringing former internationals together for Past Players Day, finding seats for the President of Ireland and Sir Mick Jagger, and of course selling tickets – then the players had to hold up their side of the bargain. Credibility on the playing side, says Deutrom, is all-important. If the contest had withered, so much of the occasion would have gone with it.
“You think about the years that our Chairman, Ross McCollum, and I have sat around ICC tables, building an argument, talking about our merit for being there,” Deutrom says. “And even though the merit is based around 21 criteria, of which only a small number are on-pitch related, it’s those criteria which you can’t get through – the other 16 or 17 are irrelevant if you haven’t got those first four.”
First-innings nerves dissipated as the match caught fire in the third innings. Kevin O’Brien’s history-making century underscored a sensational fightback, and the innings, played over five-and-a-half hours, seemed to capture some essential feature of Ireland’s story: here was a 34-year-old stalwart-cricketer of immense self-sufficiency, an itinerant survivor who’s plied his wares all over the world, pigeonholed throughout his career as a merry white-ball specialist now showing that the five-day game can be his too.
His teammate Ed Joyce, at 39 the godfather of this team, was far from surprised. “You speak to his brother Niall and he thinks Kev should be a gun in all formats. To show the skill against a seaming and swinging ball against a very good team, with a very good leg-spinner, to show the patience and determination he did to get through was an incredible effort. It showed how good he is and could be.”
O’Brien’s day-long statement of intent spoke too of Irish cricket’s unshakeable self-belief. “One thing Irish cricket is very good at is believing,” says Deutrom. “In a way, we love being underdogs. I think it gives us a cause. But we’re starting to believe that we belong on the same stage as the best teams in the world.
“That was something that came from the 2007 and 2011 [World Cup] teams, that we realised that, you know what, there’s nothing to fear here, we’ve got plenty of talent and if we exhibit all of our talents there’s no reason why we can’t put pressure on those teams.”
Deutrom says there’s no time to rest. In many respects, the hard work starts now. The first concern is making sure Ireland finalise their Future Tours Programme from 2018-2022, the final shake-up of which will be announced later this summer. “And the second is to make sure we properly commercialise that.”
He is hoping for something in the region of 60-65 home matches over the next period, including 2018, and a similar number of away matches. As for how many of those matches will be of the five-day variety, Deutrom is realistic.
“No more than one to two per year. And it’s that balance between making sure that we’re performing in the format and justifying our desire to participate in the pinnacle format, set against understanding that the format is not going to be the one to popularise the game here in Ireland.
“The other Full Member countries warned us that it’s hugely expensive [to stage Tests], and our expenses go beyond the normal costs, because we’ve got to build our stadium: [Malahide] is a pop-up job.”
But while a stadium remains on the shopping list, the new, top-notch training facility is all-but ticked off. “The one thing we genuinely lack is a facility for the one thing the players spend most of their time doing. It was something we worked on in consultation with the players, to say, ‘OK, if you genuinely believe this is what our focus should be then let’s do it’. We hope that we’ll be in a position to open our Performance Centre at the National Sports Campus [in Dublin] in the next few weeks.”
While such developments will naturally improve the overall standard of cricket in Ireland in the coming years, the advent in 2013 of a first-class competition, the three-team Inter-Provincial Championship won by Leinster Lightning every year since its inception, has already begun to bear fruit.
Joyce, who spent most of his career as a prolific county batsman with Middlesex and Sussex, only had his first taste of the competition last season, and while he recognises that the standard is still below that of county cricket, he has already seen significant talent coming through.
“It’s just a matter of getting enough game time for the guys and getting experience. And if we can keep the standard of the pitches high and change from four three-day games to six or eight, then that, added to the ‘Wolves’ games that we play – Ireland’s equivalent of the Lions – should get enough game time into the lads to improve the standard.
“The game I played this year had Boyd Rankin and Will Porterfield playing for the North-West Warriors and that made a huge difference for them. That competition will go from strength to strength.”
Considering that in 2011 Ireland had no first-class structure to speak of, no academy and no A-team cricket, it is an astonishing upturn in such a short space of time. “We’re just sprinting at pretty much everything at the moment, trying to juggle a million balls in the air without dropping any of them,” Deutrom says.
And the dream of a Lord’s Test match one day? “I would say that we’re in advanced discussions with the ECB. We hope to be able to put something out in the public domain in the not too distant future.”
It would seem, then, that standing ovations for Irish Test cricketers will no longer be confined to bucolic pop-up grounds in Malahide. The grandest stages await.
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