Need for speed ultimately proves Ireland’s undoing

Before the World Cup, Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom said that it would be a "failure" if Ireland missed out on the quarter-finals.

That is what it would have felt like for the players as Ireland traipsed off the Adelaide Oval, having been comfortably beaten by Pakistan. “Sorry we let people down,” Ed Joyce tweeted after the game.

Ireland’s cricketers will not be short of those lauding their spirit and skill as they return home. But this side is far too ambitious, professional and talented to be content with such praise.

So few chances do Ireland get to face Test-playing nations that the World Cup’s importance to Irish cricket far exceeds its impact on other countries.

Put another way: had they performed like England in this World Cup, it would have been used as evidence that Ireland had stagnated, and even as justification for plans to contract the next World Cup to 10 teams.

In winning three games, including two against Test-playing nations, Ireland emphatically showed their stirring performances in the last two World Cups were not products of a one-off side, but that a production line of cricketers has been created. Since 2006, the number of cricketers in Ireland has quadrupled. The best should be yet to come.

But in one crucial sense, Ireland have regressed. Commenting on the general improvement in associate nations before this game, Deutrom highlighted pace bowling as an area where their quality has risen before admitting: “Except probably in the case of Ireland.”

He had a point. In 2011, Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston opened the bowling, provided pace, bounce and a little venom. Alex Cusack and John Mooney, canny change bowlers then, were thrust into leading the attack this tournament. While they operated with skill — particularly Cusack, whose subtle slower balls won the game against Zimbabwe — their combination was the slowest opening pair among the 14 competing nations.

Many were infuriated that Craig Young and Peter Chase were the only two unused squad members. “They weren’t ready to be pushed in just yet,” William Porterfield explained. The pace the pair generate is around 83-84 mph — hardly express — but still would provide a little variety in a desperately samey attack.

How Porterfield must have rued the pre-tournament injury to the wily Tim Murtagh and, perhaps even more, wished he could call on his Warwickshire teammate Rankin. The ICC were prepared to relax qualification laws for associate players returning to their home nations to allow him to play in this World Cup. Rankin’s decision to tour South Africa with England Lions instead, as he attempts to regain his Test spot, might well have been the difference between Ireland making the quarter-finals and not. Not that Rankin should be blamed: his dilemma reflects the structural inequities that govern cricket today.

The issues go far deeper than the World Cup format: Ireland receive just one-eighth as much ICC funding as Zimbabwe, who won two fewer matches this tournament.

“We want Test cricket,” Ireland fans sang in Adelaide. Those dreams will not be realised for a few years, but Ireland’s performance this tournament has still imbued their cause with fresh urgency. Victory over England at Malahide in six weeks would make their case more compelling still.

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