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Time for Irish Cricket to Stretch Its Legs?

Whenever I look at the Cricinfo website, or flick through the pages of the Wisden Almanack, I find myself wholeheartedly applauding the associate and affiliate structure for the small cricketing nations. You can cast your eyes down the pages and see names such as Jersey, Uganda, The Netherlands, and, of course, Ireland.

Whilst the quality of cricket from the small island of Jersey and the fluorescent-kitted Uganda may seem a million miles away from 'Test' standard, the standard emerging from Ireland is perhaps just the other side of the test-match boundary rope.

Over the past few years, Ireland have consistently performed well, and won, the International Cricket Council's (ICC) leading competition for cricketing minnows in the longer form of the game - the ICC Intercontinental Cup. In addition to this, the team has now qualified for and progressed beyond the group stages of the last two major shorter form competitions - the World Cup in 2007 and the World Twenty20 this year.

It is perhaps inconceivable that Ireland, on the basis of beating other associate nations, should be granted test status, but something should be done to allow them to break through, if momentarily, the glass ceiling that exists between the lower ranked test-playing nations and the top rated associates. Without such a process, we could end up with another disasterous ascent to test-cricket in the vein of Bangladesh's - who lie stone-last in the rankings with zero rating points

My dear friend George Butcher puts it that "I think that if new teams cannot access the higher levels of the game then the game is worse off" and I concur. There needs to be a stepping stone put into place. Warren Deutrom, the Chief Executive of Cricket Ireland writes that "For me, having top Associates playing the bottom-ranked Test teams is pure common sense".

Bangladesh are a team that, on their day, can produce a reasonable match, but that said, so can The Swinging Googlies C.C. Furthermore, Zimbabwe, now under semi-new government, are surely in need of some rehabilitation, so maybe a triangular four- or five-day competition would be the perfect answer to allow Ireland to start to stretch its cricketing legs. 

The unfortunate thing is that, despite a good showing in the World Twenty20, beating Bangladesh and taking Sri Lanka to the wire, the likelihood of Ireland being taken more seriously by the ICC seems somewhat remote.

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