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5 pivotal events in Ireland's journey to Test status

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Ireland_cricket_ODI_World_Cup_2015The elevation of Ireland and Afghanistan to Test status is no doubt the best piece of news to come out of the game in recent times. Historically one of the most exclusive and elitist of sports, Test cricket had been in dire need of novelty, and the inclusion of these two deserving nations, even though they will not be part of the proposed nine-team Test league, has come as a breath of fresh air for cricket lovers across the world.

Ireland’s Test ambitions kickstarted a decade ago, when the national team was basking in the glory of a fairytale 2007 World Cup campaign. Since then, backed by spunk and resolve, the Irishmen repeatedly provided indications of why it would not be a bad idea to give them the right to play at the highest level. As we celebrate Ireland’s successful journey to the top table, here is a look back at five key episodes that were instrumental in fulfilling their dream.

Giant-killers of the Caribbean (2007)

Written off as no-hopers at the start of the 2007 World Cup, Ireland’s motley crew of amateurs won the hearts of all and sundry with a stunning performance that led to a cricketing renaissance back home. Captained by Trent Johnston, they announced their intentions by holding Zimbabwe to a stirring tie in their opening game at Kingston’s Sabina Park. Two days later – on St. Patrick’s Day, no less – at the same venue, they produced one of the biggest shocks in cricketing history.

Deciding to field first on a green pitch, Ireland skittled Pakistan out for 132, a total that was overcome in a jittery chase for the loss of seven wickets, thanks to Niall O’Brien’s composed knock of 72. This win sent Ireland into the Super Eight round and their impassioned fans into delirium. They were not done yet, as they toppled another full member side in the next round, defending a total of 243/7 against Bangladesh at Bridgetown to win by 74 runs.

Pink-haired Kevin O’Brien bludgeons England (2011)

In their first match of the 2011 World Cup, Ireland had squandered a great opportunity to beat Bangladesh in their own backyard, after they had collapsed from 151/5 to 178 all out to lose by 27 runs. Up next was the old enemy England on a flat track at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium. Faced with a daunting target of 328, Ireland were staring at another defeat at 106/4 in the 23rd over, when Kevin O’Brien, with his hair dyed pink, strode out to the middle.

What followed was pure mayhem, as O’Brien unleashed himself with stunning ferocity. He waltzed to his fifty in 30 balls, and his hundred in 50, beating the previous World Cup record for the fastest ton by 16 balls. He shared a sixth-wicket stand of 162 with Alex Cusack, and by the time he was out for a head-spinning 113 off 63 balls, with 13 fours and 6 sixes, Ireland were on the cusp of a famous victory, which was duly secured with five balls and three wickets to spare.

Ireland’s day in the sun at Malahide (2013)

Irish cricket showcased itself to the world with a telling statement as a crowd of 10,000 gathered for the first One-Day International match to be played at The Village in Malahide, Dublin, touted as Ireland’s new home of cricket. On what was a glorious September day, skipper William Porterfield stroked 112 to pilot Ireland to 269/7. Ironically, it was his England counterpart – former Ireland player Eoin Morgan – who stole the thunder, breaking Irish hearts in the process.

Morgan scored 124* to rescue England from 48/4 and ultimately power them to a six-wicket win. Unfortunately for Ireland, they were vanquished by one of their own; yet, the success of the match was proof that cricket was capable of long-term sustenance in the country. Earlier in the same season, an Inter-Provincial competition, featuring three teams in all three formats, was introduced with a view to provide budding Irish youngsters a taste of competitive cricket.

Another World Cup, another strong reminder (2015)

Ireland added to their impressive World Cup CV with yet another impactful display that served a message to the myopic mandarins at the ICC. They beat two-time World Cup winners West Indies in their opening game at Nelson, and the fact that this result was not viewed as an upset showed how far the Irish had come in terms of professionalism. Though they allowed the Windies to get to 304/7 from 87/5, Ireland never really seemed to lose their grip on the contest.

A clinical batting effort thanks to Paul Stirling (92), Ed Joyce (84) and Niall O’Brien (79*) sealed an emphatic four-wicket win with 25 balls remaining. Ireland went on to beat the UAE and Zimbabwe as well, and it was only due to an inferior net run-rate that they missed a quarterfinal berth. Following this performance, the likes of Michael Holding, Sachin Tendulkar and Jason Gillespie joined the chorus on Ireland deserving Test status at the earliest.

First-class status for the Inter-Pros (2016)

A giant step towards ticking the requisite boxes for Ireland’s full membership was taken in Cape Town last October, when the ICC, at its board meeting, awarded first-class status to the four-season-old Hanley Energy Inter-Provincial Championship, consisting of three-day matches. Similarly, the Inter-Pro Limited-Over Cup and the Inter-Pro Twenty20 Trophy were given List A and domestic T20 status respectively.

ICC CEO David Richardson said the competition “is well structured and provides a clear pathway for players from underage through to the national team.” Indeed, with an accredited domestic system in place, it was only a matter of time before Test status came calling. While the three-day and 50-over competitions have three teams (Leinster Lightning, Northern Knights and North-West Warriors) the T20s saw a fourth team - Munster Reds - added in 2017.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket blogger and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of Test...

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