Ireland win the world's hearts but still not the ICC's minds

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Irish marked their great World Cup victory against the English yesterday. If they were not exactly dancing in O'Connell Street, the match in which they chased down a record 329 to win was prominently featured on media outlets all day.

So low key is cricket in the country, however, that a 10-minute slot to celebrate the occasion on Radio Dublin began with an explanation of the fact that it consisted of two teams of 11 players, with two men batting at one time.

Clearly, there is some way to go for the sport to take a grip. But after the inconceivable events in Bangalore, when Kevin O'Brien hit a hundred from 50 balls, they may win their countrymen over more quickly than the International Cricket Council.

If Ireland go on to win the 10th World Cup they may not be entitled to defend their title in the 11th. In its infinite wisdom, the ICC has decreed that only 10 teams will take part in the tournament to be played in Australia in 2015.

On the one hand, this panders to the majority view that World Cups have become too long, too unwieldy and too downright tedious. On the other, it was a decision taken before Ireland knocked out England's lights on Wednesday on one of sport's more historic occasions, in Bangalore or anywhere else.

So 10 teams it is, and as it happens there are 10 full members of the ICC. It is not too difficult to see how that might work out considering the self-interest, not to mention self-aggrandisement with which cricket has traditionally been governed. They will presumably produce as evidence the form of the other lesser nations so far in this tournament, as if they can improve without better competition.

Of course, Ireland will not win this event in India, though the odds of their doing so have been cut to 150 to one. There are simply too many obstacles on the way to Mumbai on 2 April – the first of which is India on Sunday – and O'Brien, the unlikely hero of a country, will never play another innings as he did under the lights of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

O'Brien made 113 in all from 63 balls with six sixes to propel his team to an inconceivable victory in Group B after being 111 for 5. His name swept across Ireland yesterday and it may have swept as far as the lucrative Indian Premier League.

Although this year's auction is officially over, the fastest century in World Cup history, a man who hits the ball so hard with such delightful freedom, not to mention his pink and blond rinse, would be obvious attractions in an event that is pure showbiz. (The hair-do is to raise cancer awareness in Ireland and millions more will have seen it than might have done otherwise.)

O'Brien has previously flirted with professional cricket but was released by Nottinghamshire in 2009 after 15 matches in which his top score was 42. Kevin comes from Ireland's nearest thing to a cricketing dynasty.

His father Brendan represented Ireland in first-class matches and his elder brother Niall has (until now anyway) been the more successful cricketer, having played for Kent and, since 2006, Northamptonshire. Three other brothers have played cricket for the family's Dublin club, Railway Union, and sister Ciara both played and scored internationally, as well as winning 156 hockey caps.

For Kevin, 27 today, life truly may have changed forever. He clearly relishes the enriching prospect of the IPL. "Who wouldn't?" he said. "A lot of people have said that Twenty20 suits me, the way I swing the bat and hit a few sixes. If something comes of that, even better. If not, just concentrate on Sunday's game and see what happens."

On Sunday, the world will presumably return to normal. Such was the grandeur of Wednesday's win, however, that it may be practically impossible to deny the likes of Ireland their opportunity in future.

It will certainly have increased the mood of meritocracy among the ICC hierarchy who recognise that to continue to prosper it needs not more countries playing the game (it has 105 playing members) but more playing it well.

Whether it will affect India's stance is another matter. India, making up for being the poor relation for more than 100 years while England and Australia carved up the game more or less as they wished, now do more or less as they please. The crassest example of this is their refusal to use the umpire decision review system in Test matches, although it is official ICC policy.

They refuse because they can, and if they decide to refuse support for a meritocratic World Cup then it might not happen. But even they may struggle to overturn the commercial agreement for a qualifying competition.

It exercised Ireland's captain William Porterfield in the immediate aftermath of victory on Wednesday. "It's out of our hands but the ICC have a development programme. It isn't a tournament if the World Cup doesn't have associate teams." Nor is it.