DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will make a giant leap when they host their first ever test match, against Pakistan in Dublin on Friday, the start of what will be a slow introduction to the longest format of the game, according to Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom.
Ireland will become the first team to debut in the test format since Bangladesh in 2000, after being awarded full member status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) last June along with Afghanistan.
The benefits of being a full member are more likely, especially initially, to be felt more keenly off the pitch though as the game seeks to earn mainstream status in Ireland.
“We have done things in the opposite way to the norm,” Deutrom told Reuters in a telephonic interview from Dublin.
“Normally a game becomes a major sport in their country first and they then use that to create success on an international stage.
“But Irish cricket has become successful on the international stage initially, punching above our weight, and we are using that to hopefully become a mainstream sport in Ireland.
“Will test cricket be the format to bring people to the sport in Ireland? The answer is probably no. But we wouldn’t anticipate playing more than one or two test matches at home per year, probably up until 2022. Then we can look again thereafter.
“We are adopting a less-is-more approach, to develop a brand of hosting test cricket without it becoming too financially unsustainable.”
Deutrom says the ICC full member status provides certainty to the board’s commercial partners, an important step forward in developing the game in the country.
“The tangible benefits are more funding from the ICC and the ability to guarantee more fixtures across all three formats in the coming years that will improve our players.
“We have a very good diet of multi-format cricket coming up, of which the mainstay will be the One-Day International league. We will have 60 to 65 fixtures over the next four or five years, and that is just at home.
“If you are relying on one or two standalone fixtures in a season then that is never enough to generate consistent spectator and media interest.
“We can now go forward with some certainty to provide our commercial partners with multiple opportunities through the coming seasons. Broadcasters also want to develop a relationship with a visible brand and playing across multiple formats will allow for that.
“By virtue of all of these things, cricket will become more visible in Ireland, which will hopefully get kids playing the sport in greater numbers. Having the opportunity to wear the green shirt of Ireland as a professional international sportsperson … few major sports can offer that.”
Deutrom says public interest in Ireland’s first ever test has been “good”, with media interest “phenomenal”.
“We were a bit unsure about how many temporary seats to put up (in Malahide) as we are trying to bed down an unfamiliar format to many in Ireland, but we settled on 6,300.
“Tickets sales for day one (as of May 9) were 5,100, for day two 4,000 and day three around 2,000. We had a four-page pull-out in Ireland’s biggest-selling national newspaper, the Independent, last weekend which has been part of a phenomenal media response to the test.”
There is a potential threat facing Ireland with the exit of Britain from the European Union that will mean their cricketers become less accessible to English counties.
That presents a problem on two fronts – the lack of exposure for the players to quality cricket to help with their development and the potential that some may choose ‘club over country’ if that option is open to them through lineage.
Deutrom believes the solution lies in strengthening Ireland’s domestic competitions and that is something that has been under way for a few years now.
“We have been thinking about this as far back as 2012,” he reveals. “The more we were taking players out of county cricket, it became a tug-of-love for the players between their bread and butter and developing the national team.
“So we put our inter-provincial structure in place in 2013, which was actually the revival of an old structure between our three primary provinces. We added Munster to that in the Twenty20 format to give us four teams.
“So we had a greater quantity of cricket being played in Ireland, the next step is to improve the quality and with players less likely to feature for English county sides after 2019, that should improve as well.”
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty