The desire to establish a strong domestic competition was one of the key elements of Ireland’s attempts to secure Full Member status.
Now, on the eve of the country’s first ever Test against England, Boyd Rankin tells The Cricket Paper that those attempts are making a significant difference to cricket in the country – even if the weather hasn’t played ball so far this season.
It’s Wednesday afternoon and Rankin is travelling back from Belfast following the abandonment of Ireland’s first T20 international against Zimbabwe at Stormont. The rain is lashing down, which has been par for the course in the north of Ireland so far this summer.
“The rain has had a pretty big impact, if I’m honest, it hasn’t really let us build up any kind of momentum in the domestic competition,” says Rankin.
The fact that the former England Test bowler is now playing his first class cricket across the Irish Sea, rather than for Warwickshire, is an indication, though, of Ireland’s serious intent to establish a competition of note.
Rankin admits, however, that it will take time to get everything in place.
“The fact that the likes of myself, William Porterfield, Gary Wilson, it does strengthen it and there are young guys coming through as well,” he says. “The Ireland A side is really helping things as well – that has helped to close the gap between inter-provincial and Test cricket.
“The A side have already beaten Zimbabwe and Bangladesh so the strength in depth is there and I think that’s now showing in the first class game as well.
“There’s still a lot that can improve, particularly when it comes to things like the pitches, but there’s a good group of 40 players that Ireland can now pick from.”
Building up that player base will be essential if Ireland are to thrive at the very highest level.
There are currently just three inter-provincial sides in the country, with the Leinster Lightning, captained by George Dockrell, playing alongside the North West Warriors and Northern Knights.
Rankin himself is playing for the Warriors, alongside his brother David. The comparatively small number of sides in the competition is one area that Rankin would like to see addressed in the near future.
“At the moment there are only those three first class, although there are four teams in T20 competition, the Munster Reds, who are based in Cork, joining,” he says. “Ideally, they would branch out a little bit and get four teams involved. The big thing for me is that we’re only playing three-day first class matches too. The next step would be to make those four-day games. I think that would make it more interesting. Three-day cricket can be manufactured quite a lot, just because of the time constraints.
“If you have four-day cricket then there’s more of an opportunity to let the game play out and go the course. I’m not too sure how far it would be away but I think it would be quite nice to get four-day cricket established.”
At the moment, Championship matches attract ‘a few hundred people’, according to Rankin. But with most matches played during the week, there is a natural limit to the numbers matches can realistically attract.
Again, that’s something that Rankin would like to see change as the tournament evolves.
“In terms of county cricket, a lot of matches start on a Sunday or maybe Thursday to incorporate the weekend,” he says. “It’s just trying to get the schedule a bit better to try and get a few more people through the gate but, to be honest, it’s not too dissimilar to county cricket, where you don’t necessarily get massive crowds for Championship matches either.
“The interest is there, though, and most of our games are streamed online so there are probably a lot of people watching from the comfort of their own homes. It is getting better, I do feel that there’s a great pool of talent there.
“It’s just trying to get those inter-provincial sides up to the point where a lot of the players are full-time. At the moment, if it hasn’t been for the full-time contract players with Ireland, there would be quite a bit of a gap between those who are contracted to Cricket Ireland and those who are amateur players, having to take time off work to play.”
Bridging that gap will be essential if Ireland’s domestic cricket is to consistently produce the kind of players needed to propel the country forward in ODI and Test cricket.
As England found to their cost earlier this year, though, despite the tournament’s fledgling status, Ireland shouldn’t be taken lightly when they arrive in London later this week.
And nothing would give them greater pleasure than dishing out another bloody nose at Lord’s.
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