On the Front Foot: Back to basics for Ireland – if only to explain the game


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The Independent Online

A few days in Ireland are always good for the soul. The excuses to go could multiply if cricket truly starts to take off there.

The advances have been significant and bold, and a full house at Clontarf – all the tickets were sold out months ago – for the one-day international between Ireland and England seemingly brooked no doubt. Seven of the Ireland team are full-time cricketers, the England captain for the day was an Irishman, Eoin Morgan, who is in all England's international teams.

There are plans, it quietly emerged, for a first-class competition. Yet the mind kept going back to the day after the night before in March when Ireland sensationally defeated England in a World Cup match in Bangalore. It is in the running for the most surprising result of all time, not least because Ireland were dead and buried at 111 for five chasing 328 to win. As the dust settled on the match, Ireland tried to come to terms with their achievement. The TV and radio stations were full of it, partly because England were the vanquished foe.

OTTF was asked to speak for a few minutes on a Dublin station about the match and the scenes of joy surrounding it. Happy to oblige, the interview was delayed for a few minutes by another cricket-related item. This involved a representative of Cricket Ireland explaining the object of the game to the listeners: the basic premise that someone bowls a ball overarm at a batsman who is standing in front of three stumps which form something called a wicket with another batsman at the other end, the hitting of the ball, the scoring of runs. And so on.

The fact that this was thought necessary – and it was – does not bespeak a nation in which cricket is part of the fabric. In the Irish newspapers this week, the international was barely mentioned and in some cases it wasn't. No first-class structure could prosper in such an environment. Ireland should be wished well but there is a way to go. The idea of Test status remains a fantasy.

Hasty departure says it all

Still, it is remarkable that Ireland do as well as they do. To improve further they need the white heat of competition.

Good as it might have been of England to send a team last week there was the feeling that it was rushed and an unwanted encumbrance. Within half an hour of the end of the match, England were on their way to the airport.

Ireland should not only be told they are wanted, they should be made to feel wanted. Another victory over the oldest enemy may be necessary before that happens.

Cook to perfection

It was a pleasure to be invited to be part of the voting panel for this year's ICC cricketer of the year awards. The shortlists were announced on Friday, the winners will be revealed next month in London at the sort of event usually described as a glittering ceremony.

England, not surprisingly, dominate and have five players in the Test team of the year – Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson. There are four South Africans of whom the great Dale Steyn is there for the fourth successive year. What a bowler he is.

The only marginal surprise is that Ian Bell is not among them, though his brilliant 235 at The Oval came too late for the qualifying period. Alastair Cook is presumably favourite for both player of the year and Test player of the year. He was this voter's first choice in both, though on the grounds of even-handedness no place could be found for Trott, who is on both short lists.

In the one-day list, this voter's first choice, Yuvraj Singh failed to make it. Hashim Amla is a warm favourite.

New look, old heroes

The website of the England and Wales Cricket Board has recently been revamped. Jolly fine it looks too.

Still, it is difficult to understand why in the photographs of celebrating England teams adorning various pages, Andrew Flintoff still features so prominently. He should never be forgotten but England have new heroes now.