Ireland might have missed the boat for Test cricket - at least for now

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Following the country's failure at the World T20 in India and the relative success of their closest associate rival, Afghanistan, fresh doubt has been cast upon Irish ambition for further recognition in the longest forms of the game.

The core of the best Irish cricket team ever are now sliding their way past 30 and, bar one or two, there hasn't been any young players coming through who will carry the baton in quite the same way as the O'Brien brothers, Will Porterfield or Ed Joyce have done in the past decade.

With Ireland's domestic game taking steps towards gaining first-class status, having top quality players in the national side is not the be all and end all but it certainly helps in promoting the image of the team to those who count.


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Test match cricket is consistently called the pinnacle of cricket by those who play and comment on the game but more and more precedence is being given to the very shortest form of the game by governing bodies and paying audiences.

Donning the whites for a five-day match against one of the world's best test nations would be a fitting reward for the feats that this generation of cricketers have achieved but as well as being incredibly unlikely, it may not be the most prudent future to pursue.

The steadily increasing age of the team may not be the biggest problem - Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Rogers were still playing their best cricket in their late 30s - it may be the lack of talent coming through in the younger generations.

The under-19 squad fared no better than their senior counterparts in their 50-over World Cup campaign, losing all their group games comfortably. They did record a couple of wins to secure 13th place but it hardly signals towards a future of players that are going to be a viable test team.

It's hard to say how many of these young players will go on to represent their country at senior level, but if recent history is anything to go by, not too many will go on to become regulars.

Only George Dockrell and Paul Stirling have come close to reaching the level of the heroes of 2007 and beyond, yet 23-year-old left arm spinner Dockrell has been released by Somerset and still has no English county. It isn't clear what the situation is with him but that's another Irishman not playing regular first-class cricket.

The intentions for Ireland not to rely on the English domestic game is clear however.

A quick browse on the official website of Cricket Ireland shows that they have their hands full with impressive progressions for the infrastructure of the sport.

A job vacancy for the National Academy Manager plainly lays out the task that the incumbent would be charged with: create an environment that will prepare players for test cricket. Another article talks about the numerous coach development programmes that are being run in the near future and yet another plugs the new membership scheme for supporters to buy into.

From the grass roots game to supporters to elite performance, they seem to be covering all their bases in their quest to become Britain's only other test playing nation.

Even if they do meet every requirement there might still be resistance from the England, Australia and India, the three main forces of world cricket governance.

It might even be the nation that invented the sport who will provide the most opposition to adding the latest member to the test roster.

Why would the ECB want to permanently close off a production line of quality players? Admittedly, only Eoin Morgan has established himself in the side to any extent but Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin have both had their moments with the three lions on their shirt.

The Irish have lured back those two since their time with England but they will never be able to retain their own talent if the lure of bigger things with the English remains.

For at least the foreseeable future any Irishman with lofty hopes for their cricket career will have to cross the Irish Sea, even if the Inter-Provincial series does take off and gain first-class status. They want test cricket by 2020, they should probably add another five or ten years to that time scale.

If you need more evidence of the ICC's true intentions for the game you need look no further than the reduction in teams at the 2019 World Cup.

There will be only ten teams in the tournament (a decrease from 14 in 2015), leaving the potential for no associate nations to be at the tournament if they cannot progress through a World Cup qualifier held in Bangladesh.

If the ODI rankings were to remain as they are now, Ireland will need to finish in the top two of a qualifying tournament made up of the West Indies, Zimbabwe and six other associate nations. All that in subcontinental conditions that will inevitably stack the odds even more against the Irish.

How a qualifying tournament in Bangladesh makes any sense for a World Cup in England demonstrates the lack of logic in the ICC's decision-making, something that could be seriously damaging to Ireland and so many other associates.

The northern hemisphere is sorely underrepresented in world cricket and the Irish missing a tournament in familiar conditions will be a travesty.

Obviously, the ICC has to maintain a degree of quality for every one of their products and they may perceive the risk of associates performing poorly as damaging to their closely manufactured brand.

It's sad that business comes before the integrity and development of the sport but that's the way the world is nowadays.

There are a number of barriers in the way for Ireland and right now they are making all the wise moves in establishing a set-up that can provide lasting Irish success. It's going to be a battle to become a full member but soon enough the ICC won't be able to ignore the rambunctious Irish.

There will have to be rapid improvements in Irish cricket for them to be playing a test match by 2020 and, realistically, they don't have the budget to make it happen.

While other associates look to T20 for a platform on the world stage, Ireland are laying foundations that will be built deep enough to make sure they are a regular player on the international circuit for the century to come.

Afghanistan, Holland and others are targeting one-day cricket as their future and while that may provide immediate recognition, there is always that chance you can fizzle out of the cricketing conscience. Look at Kenya, where are they now?

Cricket is a long old game and Ireland want part of the most drawn-out form of the sport. They will need to show the very same patience now that is going to be so important when they finally join the ten test nations.

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