So close, but yet, so far. Ireland’s attempts to secure a spectacular debut Test victory over Pakistan at Malahide last week, and in doing so earn a win after following on for only the fourth time in history, were batted away by a composed knock of 74 from Imam-ul-Haq. In truth, though, the damage was done long before Pakistan wobbled their way to the target of 160.
Nevertheless, Ireland did not disgrace themselves, far from it. The fight and desire the plucky Irish side displayed after having been rock bottom in the game shows that there is more to cricket than just the top 10 nations but, whatever you do, just don’t let the International Cricket Council know that.
It has always seemed utterly baffling to me that cricket, one of the biggest sports in the world with huge growth potential, is also one of the most insular and backward thinking in its approach and governance. Any and every attempt to grow the game is stalled despite the brilliant work of associate nations and the shining lights in which they have portrayed the sport when given the chance.
Think Ireland in Bangalore in 2011. Think Bangladesh in Northampton in 1999. Think Kenya during the whole of the 2003 World Cup. These were amazing moments that provided great entertainment and quality. These have shown that, despite the steep learning curve, smaller nations can cope and even thrive against the big boys. Even if they fail, there is such great pleasure and anticipation in seeing if they can pull it off. Everyone, after all, loves an underdog.
Everyone that is, except the ICC. For all of Ireland’s skill and bravery last week, they have no further Test matches confirmed and will, at best, be playing one or two a year for the foreseeable future. Of course, this is out of necessity for Cricket Ireland who cannot afford it now, but if there was proper infrastructure and sufficient support in place to allow smaller nations to thrive they would have more of a chance.
The ICC, though, still want us to be on a diet of 10-team World Cups despite the success of previous, larger events. And despite giving Ireland and Afghanistan Test status, the ICC still want us on a diet of Test and one-day international matches between a select few. The short-term gain of money is far more important than the long-term gain of growing the sport.
Money has made the ICC become increasingly insular in their running of cricket, looking for the same old match-ups involving England, India and Australia for television rights dosh. In much the same way as Colin Graves’ remark that young people are “not interested in the game” shows a complete lack of faith in the sport, so does the ICC’s strategy in running it.
For all of the methods thought up to try and garner interest in the sport, stopping stifling the growth of cricket should be at the top of the agenda.