Ireland now and then and maybe again

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When England first played Ireland in a Test match four years ago, we had visions of it becoming an annual fixture with a slowly developing history. We’ve followed England cricket long enough to know there was pretty much zero chance that would happen, but the prospect has only seemed more remote during this second Test match between the two nations.

You know that thing people do where they take a photo a day – usually of themselves – and then play them all sequentially, like stop motion animation, so that you can see how they gradually changed over time. You only get good footage if you take snapshots often enough. Anything more than incremental change ruins the effect.

Four years ago, Ireland were a (relatively) new Test nation. England beat them, but there was enough there that it was intriguing to ponder how they might develop with more Tests and more experience.

More than three and a half years later, Ireland had played zero more Test matches and three quick fixtures against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in April hasn’t quite brought them up to speed.

As for first-class cricket, that began in Ireland in 2017 and ended in 2019. They haven’t been able to afford to bring it back since Covid.

Compounding this is the bizarre situation in county cricket where Ireland players have been reclassified as “overseas” and largely spurned as a result. They’d previously counted as locals, but since 2020, players like Tim Murtagh, who was born and raised in London, have basically had to choose between playing for Ireland or their county.

Paul Stirling questioned the ruling a few years back, but quite understandably didn’t go so far as to sink a load of his own money into challenging it legally.

“It is an ECB rule and I can understand it,” he told The Telegraph. “Cricket Ireland have Test status and if you want to play Test cricket for Ireland then why should the ECB let someone play in their local tournaments if they are not looking to play for England?”

Why? We can think of a couple of reasons.

At the most basic level, we’ll refer you to the final day of the recently completed Giro d’Italia where Geraint Thomas – second overall – helped former (emphasis on former) teammate Mark Cavendish to the stage win in the closing kilometres.

Explaining his reasoning for giving someone who is not on his team a bit of a leg up, Thomas explained: “I was just there and I saw they only had Luis León with him and I thought, ‘Help a brother out’.”

Just: ‘Here’s someone I have a relationship with who I could help out a little at no enormous personal cost. Why not?’

Why not? Against a backdrop of no Test matches and no first-class cricket, are England worried that with even a smidgeon of assistance Ireland will surpass them? Or are they worried that a smattering of Ireland players might add a bit more depth and quality to the County Championship?

The second reason for the ECB to let someone play in their local tournaments, even if they aren’t looking to play for England boils down to ‘why’ rather than ‘why not?’.

Have we not hit a point with Test cricket where the teams with greater means need to actively assist those with less? Has that not in fact been the scenario right from day one? Is this not just basic holistic maintenance of what they used to call the ‘pinnacle’ format? (Although it’s conspicuous that no one actually dares use that term any more.)

So no annual fixture. No growing local rivalry via a traditional season-opener. Instead a second snapshot, four years removed from the last one, and with a vague plan to maybe take a third another four years hence.

The week in review: England beat Ireland and their bid to “win” Test cricket through being last man standing is also going pretty well.

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  1. Well put.

    Is this entirely an ECB matter or are the ECB to a large extent tied in with ICC regulations on this matter? I seem to recall the whole Kolpak thing was based on England (and indeed other EU countries) needing to have an exemption from ICC definitions of overseas players in order not to fall foul of EU regulations on restraint of trade. In short, the change is a bit of a Brexity-ballsup too, if I recall correctly.

    Surely common sense should apply to players from all associate and smaller test-playing nations in the matter of them playing domestic cricket in all major test-playing nations.

    The current situation is totally potty – as exemplified by the Irish examples you have given.

    Oh boy was this a topic of many conversations last week at Lord’s.

    1. You’d imagine ICC regulations would be very much secondary given that the rule means some UK passport holders are facing restrictions on working in the UK on the basis of what national cricket team they play for.

      1. ‘Hello, we are EU Regulations, and this is our new single Brexity Balls-Up’

      2. This article from an Irish website published today reads well and perhaps contains an authoritative thought from Niall O’Brien that Cricket Ireland and the ECB ought to be able to reach an accommodation over this matter.

        If they have the discretion to do so, it really is a disgrace that the ECB has not opened its doors to Irish players to play as domestic players. This absurd rule is harming both nations’ cricket and restricting the chances of many good players who would add value both sides of the Irish Sea.

  2. I guess it comes down to what is the purpose of the ECB – to generate a strong England test side, or to ensure that test cricket is interesting and competitive?

    Think back to the 2000s… Australia, India, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka could all field competitive teams and Pakistan and New Zealand had their moments. Even the West Indies weren’t all bad. There was touch competitive cricket and it was great. Now sadly there’s a clear gulf between Australia, India, England and New Zealand which leads to far too many one sided series.

    Could the ECB change the overseas players limits in the County Championship so that counties could play two, but one had to come from a ‘minnow’? Well, they could until the first legal challenge when it would all fall to pieces. And deciding and agreeing who was a minnow or not would be a delicate decision – especially if it meant a world class player like Shakib could be classed as from a minnow.

    Stupid idea, but I’m posting this as I’ve already written it.

    1. Well as mentioned above, resilience to legal challenges clearly isn’t a policy requirement.

  3. Moeen Ali’s back.
    Jack’s back’s knacked.
    No place for Jacks.
    Edgbaston packed.
    Tests back to back.

  4. Watching the cricket from the Oval, one thing springs immediately to mind. And that is, does KC’s website support HTML colours? This could be important, not least to the intelligibility of this comment. Oh well, here goes…

  5. Watching the cricket from the Oval, one thing springs immediately to mind. And that is, the word GREEN spelled out in letters as opposed to being used to colour the actual text, which would have been spectacular but you can’t have that because KC doesn’t like colours or something.

      1. I knew it. I knew you’d be able to do something like that. So what was it – some special owners privilege or just knowing what the right code is?

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