What The Ireland Win Means For Associate Cricket

Dileep Premachandran is out of the gates with a column on Ireland’s famous victory over England:

A cosy clique works for those within, but it alienates everyone else, and destroys their chances of development. Sri Lanka won just two of their first 15 World Cup matches. Had the ICC lost patience after they lost every game in 1987, there would have been no Cinderella story in 1996.

Of course, Sri Lanka had a thriving school system to produce talent, and fine coaches. The likes of Ireland and Netherlands don’t, yet, and they never will if young kids are denied the chance to dream of being the next O’Brien or ten Doeschate on the world stage.

So far, the Associates haven’t had a good World Cup. Netherlands put out a right good scare for England, but their bowlers are weak. Kenya and Canada have been downright appalling, and Zimbabwe hasn’t played at the level of a soon-to-be Test nation. Only Ireland have played consistently well, almost beating  Bangladesh and now trumping England.

What does this mean? As Dileep argues, World Cups matter less than sound domestic cricket bodies that promote the game at every level, recruiting talent at a young age and then training it for the international level. Ireland’s proximity to England has been a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it feeds the interest in the sport, and a curse because it occasionally means good players like Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce skip across the pond.

As I’ve said before, forget the World Cup Associate debate, because it’s a distraction from the larger issue: building viable domestic structures. Some may argue victories like Ireland’s provide a necessary spark — young kids will read of the victory in tomorrow’s papers and ask their parents for a cricket bat — but I say it’s just not enough. The trickier question is this: if Ireland is not good enough for the World Cup, will it be good enough for bilateral series against countries like Australia and India, both notorious for eying only the bottom line and nothing else?

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4 thoughts on “What The Ireland Win Means For Associate Cricket

  1. Russ says:

    DB, I think we need to start by being honest with our expectations for lower ranked teams. There is no equality in international sport; the top half dozen teams in every sport you can name generally have unmatched depth of quality, and win the vast majority of games against the teams ranked further down the ladder. If you want competitiveness in sport, watch the teams ranked 15-25; they are almost always equally matched. If you want equality of opportunity, you need to accept a few floggings to go with the odd romantic win.

    Ireland, like Scotland have a limited population. Realistically they’ll be a bit like New Zealand; they’ll have times when they have genuinely great players, and they’ll have times when they struggle badly. Their record against the top teams will be one of famous victories punctuating a lot of defeats. Their football teams are no different, but FIFA structures competitions so that doesn’t really matter – for them, qualification and getting through the group stages is success; winning is a dream. They will rarely be an attractive proposition for bilateral tours, which is why I’ve argued that half the international playing calendar should be tournament based – when they are good, they’ll progress far, when not, it won’t matter too much.

    Also like football, their best players will invariably play in England. County cricket is a bigger market, paying better wages; EU work regulations guarantee entry and that is unlikely to change. European teams need better domestic structures – a 12 team, two division, European super-league would be best – but they are not the be-all end-all when the bulk of their squad will play in England.

    So in a sense I disagree, what matters is not status, or even getting to play games, but narrative. Last night was a brilliant narrative: the come-from-behind win over a cricketing super-power. What Ireland needs, and what every team needs are more great narratives: games where the winner gets to progress, and the loser steps aside. And in that sense Dileep is right, cricket’s rigid structures are a blight on the game, because they don’t allow that to happen.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Russ,
      Thanks for the comment, as usual far more enlightened than my own contribution. I have to quibble with one element — the size of a country’s population should say relatively little about its sporting talent. For the past two decades, Australia has dominated the game, even though its number of people pales in comparison to India’s, Bangladesh’s or Pakistan’s.

      But you have an exciting point about narrative and sport, a relationship not fully explored thus far. I’ll have to think more on the subject before I fully reply, but it seems the cricket world is moving away from your prescription — fewer tournaments, more bilateral series (and more pointless ODI games). Introducing more teams into the equation adds for more drama, as you say, but for whatever reason, tri-series and Champions Trophies are on the way out.

      • Russ says:

        DB, thanks. You are sort-of right, population is not be-all and end-all, but it does matter. Cricket strength is complicated by lots of factors external to population, which need accounting for.

        The base population is actually males aged 20-35. Then we need to remove anybody with no contact with cricket, which drives down the playing numbers in associates; anybody not able to play the game for other reasons (normally financial), which massively reduces the available population in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan; anybody who isn’t picked up by the system, which is a huge problem in large populations; and anybody who chooses a different professional sport where they have options, which hurts England particularly, but also Australia and New Zealand. I don’t really know how to measure India’s effective population, but I’d imagine it drops from being 50 times Australia’s population to maybe 8, which is not so different.

        If we make comparisons between similar (wealthy western) nations, the distribution of talent is random, and we’re focused on the extreme tail of a normal distribution. For every doubling of population, the probability of getting a player of some standard doubles. Australia being a bit over 4 times the size of New Zealand will get 4 players averaging 50 for every 1 of New Zealand’s (on average) which I think is probably a pretty accurate reflection of their relative standards over time, and an accurate reflection of the relative strengths of their first class competitions. There is still randomness though – which is my point above – so Australia or the West Indies can still occasionally produce four of the game’s greats in one generation and carry all before them; they just won’t do it as regularly as some others. And that needs to be reflected in cricket’s structures.

  2. […] Not What the Associates Can Do For You It occurs to me (and to ducking beamers before me) that we are having the wrong […]

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