“Every now and again someone wakes up and has the best day of their life” was the only explanation Graeme Swann could offer for Kevin O’Brien’s match-winning century against England in the recent World Cup. Walking to the crease with the game dead and buried O’Brien slayed his way to a brutal ton to help his nation to perhaps the most memorable underdog victory ever.
Yesterday, however, the suits at the ICC made a decision that means Kevin O’Brien will not get a chance to replicate his superb 113 in the 2015 World Cup. In fact O’Brien, 27, may very well never get another opportunity to play 50 over cricket at the highest level because the ICC has decided that ten teams will now contest the tournament, instead of fourteen.
In one way, this is good news. The cricket World Cup is, for what it is, an awful tournament; down in no small part to the large amount of matches played, many of which are meaningless, one-sided contests. Who could forget Sri Lanka’s nine-wicket win over Kenya, for example? Many pundits have suggested reducing the amount of teams but denying Ireland’s progress and refusing them access to the 2015 event can only be bad for cricket.
There is undeniably a balance to maintain between letting the elite nations excel and allowing the associate nations to flourish. Perhaps Haroon Lorgat and his ICC colleagues had it wrong with the bloated fourteen-man tournament but I would argue the changes announced yesterday are no better.
Zimbabwe, a country that could only beat Canada and Kenya on the sub-continent, will be there in 2015 as will Bangladesh, a country who are the polar opposite to Ireland in terms of opportunities in international cricket. Ireland do not have a divine right to be at the World Cup but if they don’t neither do Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. Why have William Porterfield’s side been jettisoned? It is an injustice of epic proportions and some reward for another heroic World Cup showing.
The future of Irish cricket, certainly in the short term, has been made that bit bleaker by the announcement. Without the World Cup in 2015 the likes of George Dockrell, the talented left-arm spinner, will surely now defect to England, following in the footsteps of Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan. Dockrell had already admitted he was likely to switch allegiances but now nothing stands in his way.
Paul Stirling might very well follow the young Somerset man as well and without the opportunity to regularly pit themselves against the best in the world the game in Ireland will struggle to continue its growth.
Lorgat has suggested there will be an opportunity for the associate nations to compete in 2019, those that are able to qualify. A system by which the top eight-ranked nations qualify automatically and the bottom two qualify through play-offs seems perfect, so why wait until 2019? Why punish the Irish and the Dutch so much this time round? What have Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, indeed from time to time recently England and the West Indies, done to deserve this guaranteed place?
If a country is underperforming they’ll have to win a preliminary tournament in order to qualify for the World Cup, seems fair to me. As ever the ICC have seen it slightly differently, so despite good performances at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, Ireland have been denied access to the top table of international limited overs cricket and have been lumped in with the likes of Canada and the USA, so much for the luck of the Irish.