Ireland happy to upset old order again

In 2007, Irish cricket first announced itself to the world when Pakistan were defeated in the World Cup in Jamaica. Four years later, England were toppled in Bangalore to confirm Ireland’s upward march.

Ireland happy to upset old order again

And now, with victory over the West Indies in Nelson, Ireland have, for the third consecutive tournament, made an indelible mark upon the World Cup.

This time feels very different.

If the overwhelming feeling in 2007 and 2011 was one of jubilation, this time it is more one of relief. Ever since the World Cup draw was made, Ireland have publicly been targeting their opening game as one they could win to kick-start their tournament.

There is also a growing frustration — even anger — with how the cricketing world has responded to Ireland’s rise. They have responded not by encouragement, but by pulling up the ladder.

Ireland had 17 scheduled ODIs against full members between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, but just 11 between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. Only in cricket would opportunities recede as a side improves.

In Nelson, 12,000 miles away from home, Irish discontent was not hard to find.

“Since 2007 they’ve been of the most competitive Irish sides across all sports,” said Adrian Raftery, who you may recognise from your TV screens as Larry the Leprechaun. “They pump all this money into the West Indies, who aren’t bothered,” he lamented on the banks of Nelson. “Why can’t they at least give us half as much?”

In recent months, the Ireland team has been increasingly vociferous in highlighting its lack of opportunities. No one has been more so than Ed Joyce, who has pointed out the absurdity of him needing to switch to England, earlier in his career, to have a chance of playing Test cricket, and the lunacy of cricket being unique among all sports in contracting the size of its World Cup: the International Cricket Council plans to reduce the size of the 2019 tournament to 10 teams, four fewer than the current format.

So it was rather apt that Joyce would play the classiest innings of the day. He has always been a technically proficient, aesthetically pleasing batsman. Yet in the last 12 months or so, at an age when his career should be winding down, Joyce has ascended to new heights.

In the 2014 first-class season in England he scored eight centuries — and England selector Angus Fraser even suggested that he might be picked for the England Test team were he still eligible. Rather than scale his game back, as is customary for players of his age — he is now 36 — Joyce has taken the opposing approach.

He bats with more daring and panache than earlier in his career; his 84 took just 67 balls, 39 fewer than in making the identical score in Ireland’s defeat to the West Indies in the 2011 World Cup. Against a distinctly ragtag Caribbean attack, Joyce unfurled a majestic series of shots: languid drives, classy late cuts and even a straight six off Darren Sammy, the sort of shot that the 2011 vintage Joyce would seldom have played.

Joyce, like Paul Stirling and Niall O’Brien, was denied a century. No matter. Together they had made a target of 305 seem facile. Just as importantly, they had earned Ireland the right to speak about the injustices that pervade the running of cricket today.

William Porterfield did not miss his targets in the post-match press conference. “We’ve played nine ODIs against top eight teams in the last four years which is frustrating and then we come here and show what we can do, having limited games against opposition like that in the four years building up,” he said.

Porterfield then turned to the emotive issue of the plans to reduce the 2019 World Cup to 10 games, which ICC officials privately accept is governed by the wish of TV broadcasters for India to be guaranteed nine matches. “I don’t get it,” he said. “You don’t see any other sport cutting teams in their top competitions. You’re taking away opportunities for a lot of nations to get to World Cups and get to where they want to be and develop the sport in their country through publicity and everything like that, so it is frustrating.”

He found an ally in Darren Sammy, his former teammate at MCC Young Cricketers. “They could go far in this tournament,” he said. “If they continue to play like this, they will get what they finally deserve.”

For all the progress Ireland make, the sense is the national team has endured four wasted years since Bangalore — owing to little fault of their own, but the myopia of cricket’s governing elite. This victory goes a long way towards highlighting the injustice. Yet nothing would press Ireland’s case for wider recognition like playing in front of a packed Australian Test ground in a World Cup knockout match. That is the prize that now lies in tantalising grasp.

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