The phrase “the luck of the Irish” was coined in the 19th century at the height of the American Gold Rush. During this time a number of the most successful miners were of either of Irish or Irish-American descent. The phrase was considered derogatory as it implied that their success was down to good fortune as opposed to hard work and intelligence. Unsurprisingly, the phrase never caught on in Ireland.
As far as Irish cricket is concerned, this is only fitting given their setbacks and misfortune since being awarded Full Member status in June 2017.
Last year, Cricket Ireland’s broadcasting partner went into administration owing it €275,000 before CI was hit by a cyber theft scam that cost them €175,000. Paltry attendance figures during the 2019 home season and the resulting decrease in gate receipts only added to CI’s woes.
Earlier this year, Covid-19 led to the postponement of their home summer, when they were not only scheduled to host Pakistan and New Zealand but were supposed to go on their first ever tour of Sri Lanka as well.
Things weren’t much better on the field.
An ageing squad failed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. They couldn’t even advance to the second stage of the 2016 World T20 as well. Ireland’s struggles boiled down to their inability to replace a golden generation of players who were instrumental to Ireland’s fortunes in the years before Full Membership, not least during historic wins over Pakistan, England, and the West Indies.
Between Peter Chase’s debut on 19th January 2015 and James McCollum’s debut on 28th February 2019, Ireland played 49 ODIs while only handing out 5 new caps. While some raised questions about Ireland’s youth pipelines, others questioned why promising youngsters weren’t being given enough game time.
An Injection of Youth, A Change in Fortunes
After a tough few years, however, things might just be turning around for the men in green.
They booked their place at the T20 World Cup after topping their group at the T20 World Cup Qualifiers last year, and they’ve recorded impressive away wins against the West Indies and Afghanistan just before Covid-19 reared its ugly head.
They wouldn’t have accomplished any of this without increased opportunities for young talent coming through their pipelines. Encouragingly, since McCollum’s debut in February 2019, Ireland has played 17 ODIs, during which they’ve handed out 7 new caps.
Of these seven, Joshua Little (20 years old) and Gareth Delaney (23) have already established themselves as regulars in white ball cricket, while Mark Adair (24) is a fixture in all three formats. Harry Tector (20) and former South Africa U-19 Curtis Campher (21) aren’t far away from making their respective ODI debuts either. Both have been named in the 14-man squad for the first ODI of the three-match series against England at Southampton. The duo impressed in Ireland Wolves’ tour to Namibia, where the hosts — who finished 4th at last year’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers — were practically at full strength.
Tector also strikes in excess of 130 in his 20-match T20I career and impressed in the middle order against an Afghan spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, and Qais Ahmed with three scores over 30 in the series preceding Covid-19.
Adair’s exploits with the new ball have taken the strain off Boyd Rankin, who would’ve been desperate for support after Tim Murtagh’s decision to retire from Ireland duty and sign a 2-year extension with Middlesex. In addition to an impressive 6-wicket match haul on Test debut against England, Adair was Ireland’s top wicket-taker at last year’s qualifiers, where he conceded a mere 4.78 runs per over: the best economy rate for any seamer who’d played at least two games in the competition.
As Adair continues his recovery from ankle surgery, he is set to miss the curtain raiser of the World Cup Super League against England on Thursday, providing left-armer Joshua Little the chance to cement his ODI spot.
Little burst onto the scene with a spell of 4/45 on ODI debut against England, where he famously dismissed Eoin Morgan with a brute of a bouncer. He also recorded figures of 3/29 off his four overs in this years’ victory over the West Indies — which included a composed final-over where he defended 13 — on a day when over 400 runs were scored.
While Gareth Delaney is still searching for consistency in 50-over cricket, he has exceeded expectations in the shortest format. At the Qualifiers, he had the highest strike-rate among all Irish batsman who faced at least 25 balls across the tournament, out-striking veterans Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien.
Delaney the leg-spinner out-bowled senior spin partner George Dockrell, picking up 9 wickets in 8 appearances and finishing as Ireland’s most-used bowler after Adair and Rankin.
However, Delaney’s bowling numbers were inflated by the dry surfaces and the long boundaries at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, where Ireland played the majority of their group games. He has occasionally travelled the distance against higher-ranked teams, most notably when he leaked 33 in a 2-over spell in a tight game that the West Indies won by 1 wicket.
Delaney isn’t the only Irishman to stutter against tougher oppositions. The England Lions chased down 297 with more than 15 overs to spare against them on Sunday as Phil Salt pummeled a 58-ball century. On his return from injury, Adair leaked more than 9 runs an over, Delaney more than 8, while Josh Little went at over 10.
Super League is Crucial for Ireland
The fact that Cricket Ireland (along with Afghanistan) receives less funding than all of the other Full Members makes it hard to organize bilateral tours outside this Super League structure.
Ireland will be praying that Covid-19 doesn’t throw a wrench into their plans to play 24 ODIs in this World Cup cycle against the top-13 teams. It’s the only way their younger crop of players can develop the skills and mindset to perform more regularly against the better sides.
Just as importantly, a successful Super League campaign would see the Irish finish in the top 8 and advance directly to the 2023 World Cup without having to play an ultra-competitive qualifier.
The future course of the Covid-19 pandemic is not something the Irish can control. For now, though, theirs is no longer an aging squad. For the first time in a long duration, Ireland is blessed with a blend of youth and experience. Much of the young crop has already impressed, and if the initial stages of their respective careers are anything to go by, they’re here to stay.