Ireland playing in the Friends Provident Trophy was a nice idea. But, after their World Cup exploits, it seems completely futile for them to play county opposition.
They would benefit from the experience; but, the problem is Ireland will only be playing a shadow side. Niall O’Bren, Eoin Morgan, Boyd Rankin, William Porterfield and Andrew White are the future of Irish cricket – all are under 26. But each have county contracts, meaning they will be missing for huge periods of Ireland’s games.
Equally, the increasing fixture list the ICC is organising for the developing nations, combined with Ireland’s rise to full ODI member status, means Ireland can have plenty of games to look forward to in the future, starting with a triangular tournament against the West Indies and Holland this summer.
And, obviously, those who haven’t secured a county contract have only a finite amount of times at their disposal. Trent Johnson, though he has since decided to continue, admitted to having doubts due to fixture congestion. Ireland have been playing non-stop since January and there is a limit on how much leeway bosses will give players, and, indeed, how much free time players are prepared to give. And the last thing Ireland need is to force committed amateurs to give up the game.
The future for Irish cricket is undeniably extremely bright. Though helped by their experienced foreigners, the performances of their young, home-grown players was very encouraging, with Rankin and Niall O’Brien both showing they have the quality to become fine ODI players. With Kevin O’Brien, who has the makings of a very useful county one-day player, William Porterfield, who is fighting to gain a contract with Gloucestershire, Eoin Morgan, richly talented but a little overawed at the World Cup, and 21-year-old Gary Wilson, the reserve keeper at Surrey, the talent pool runs deep.
What Ireland need now is to expose their best players to more international cricket. The board should pressurise England into playing, as they did last year, a game against them each season. Meanwhile, it is ridiculous that Scotland, a side who have displayed little of Ireland’s potential (their best players, unlike Ireland’s, are over 30), have a one-day international against a touring side, India, while Ireland do not. Given the reluctance of counties to play their best sides against touring opposition, why not allow Ireland to play them, on days when all their county players would actually be able to play? If Ireland continue to improve, it could also be worthwhile to allow them a first-class game against a nation touring England, which would certainly be a more interesting spectacle than seeing a virtual county second XI going through the motions.
There is now little to be gained for a shadow side playing low-key games against county opposition. This was highlighted by the absurd situation of Ireland’s Niall O’Brien playing for Kent against his country last season.