In a one-off one day international, England, the third best ODI team in the world, beat an associate nation. No big deal really.
Except that simplistic summary misses a whole host of important points about cricket in Ireland. England were coming to town, captained by a Dubliner, Eoin Morgan, who was returning to a ground he played junior cricket on and cricket fans came from across Ireland to be part of the big day.
Firstly, and possibly most importantly, there was a crowd of just over 10,000 comfortably accommodated in the new home of Irish cricket, Malahide. This is thought to be the biggest crowd ever to watch a cricket match in Ireland and even the President came to watch. Remember, this was a Tuesday afternoon in September.
Stepping up to host a crowd four or five times greater than usual creates huge logistical challenges, but the administration at Cricket Ireland passed all of them with flying colours. The ground is minutes walk from the nearest train station, which is on the line that connects Belfast and Dublin. The stewards were all friendly (even the police even joined in the fun), the bar queues were small and the food was varied.
Most international grounds in England have been forced to add more and more seats to squeeze every last drop of income out of international games. That mistake wasn’t made at Malahide, with plenty of space to sit and picnic, while mingling with other fans and listening to the live band. In the late summer sunshine, it made the perfect location to watch cricket.
With such a beautiful setting, the quality of the cricket hardly mattered, but that was pretty special too. Ireland’s 269-7 was built around an entertaining 112 from William Porterfield, but always looked at least 30 light on a ground the size of Malahide. The total was kept modest by some excellent bowling by an Irishman, Boyd Rankin (9 overs, 46 runs, 4 wickets). Rankin recently threw his lot in with England and was making his ODI debut wearing the three lions.
Ireland could have been in more trouble had Michael Carberry not had an ODI debut to forget. He shelled two simple catches and made a meal of every piece of ground fielding that came his way – much to the crowd’s delight – and bowled one over for 12. To cap off his poor day, he scored an ugly 10 runs opening the batting before being pinned LBW by Trent Johnston.
England’s reply didn’t start too well. With Carberry struggling, Luke Wright and James Taylor never looking settled and Gary Ballance going second ball, England were 48-4 with a big hill to climb. The Blarney Army sensed a win, but England’s Irishman and Ravi Bopara had different ideas.
Initially it was difficult to watch, with Bopara and Morgan looking to take the sting out of the attack, which they did beautifully. As the ball softened and the impressive Tim Murtagh finished his allocation the pair accelerated to bring the target easily into reach. As Ireland pushed for more wicket taking balls, the ball disappeared into the stands with greater regularity and England eventually won at a canter.
So in the end, two Irishmen shone for England and an Englishman bagged the best bowling figures for Ireland. That probably sums up the confused nature of international sport at the moment.
But the day held nothing but positives for Ireland, the result notwithstanding. In front of the ICC’s CEO David Richardson, Cricket Ireland put on a super show – it was a great event, impeccably organised and well supported. The pictures being shown around the world must have made the ICC and others take notice.
Cricket Ireland plan to apply for Test status by 2020 and they’re putting in the building blocks to achieve that goal. Junior playing numbers have more than doubled since 2011, senior cricket in Ireland is developing to allow a First Class game to evolve and it is now beyond doubt that Malahide is a serious international ground.
With the ICC’s support, Ireland should be able to play more competitive fixtures against other top nations and give their players, administrators and fans more opportunities to be involved at the top level.
No one should doubt the step up involved in playing Test cricket (Bangladesh’s 3 wins from 77 tells a story) but Ireland is certainly heading in the right direction.