Irish hospitality

Back from my trip to Ireland covering the Quadrangular series and, before I write any more, I must pen this joke – told to me by a Dublin taxi driver this morning.

“A Belfast man is in prison, so his mate goes to see him. ‘What do you do for sex?’ he asks him. ‘Well, we usually have our tea.’”

Those who haven’t heard the differences between the two accents of Northern Ireland and the south won’t get the joke. In fact, it only works if you say it out loud…but it had me guffawing my way to the airport, at any rate.

A view of Clontarf, Dublin

An interesting trip to Ireland though. Some of the cricket was really quite poor by the Associates – and by West Indies, it has to be said – but overall it was a very useful fact-finding mission. I’m less convinced by exactly what the Associates have gained from the experience – it was blighted by the bloody rain, sadly – but I suppose the more they play, the better they get. The complete lack of exposure to the newspapers, TV, radio – anywhere – was a huge concern though. Just two weeks earlier, with India and South Africa playing “off-shore” internationals, that too failed to attract sizeable crowds – due in part to a cock-up by the ICU in over-pricing the matches (something they rectified for the Quadrangular).

One comment struck me, though: do they (the Associates) really want to play with the big guys, or are they happy as they are?

They can’t be. But until the boards receive massive financial injection, they simply won’t develop to a sufficient standard and players will continue to flee to England for a full-time salary and genuine prospects of playing Test cricket. That’s the truth as I see it.

The enthusiasm for Irish cricket among those involved, however, was really great to see. But can a family – and that’s essentially what Irish cricket still is – become a professional, business-oriented body?

Ireland beat Bangladesh

With all the moaning about how the 2007 World Cup is a bit of a farce, it has to be said that it’s greatest defenders are the actual players. There’s been some great cricket played, and not least by those of whom the least have been expected. Bangladesh have had some great moments but it was their turn to be the shock losers as Ireland dominated last night for another upset victory.

It is hard to remember now, but no one except Bob Simpson gave Sri Lanka much of a chance in 1996, Kenya surprised everyone by making the semi-finals in 2003 and in 2007 we’ve had the rise of Ireland and Bangladesh. The World Cup is becoming a platform for new nations to make their mark on the cricketing world.

And while the ICC gets a justified bucketing for its blunders, it must be given credit also for the way that it has given new nations the opportunity to show us what they have got. Hopefully, looking forward to the 2011 tournament, Ireland and Bangladesh will be able to consolidate their progress, and maybe a new nation will come on board and dazzle us from no-where.

Australia v Ireland, Super Eights, Barbados

Very late on this one- Ponting showing no sense of adventure, sent Ireland in and as I write they are 84 for 9. All in all a brave effort by the Irish so far, and some of Australia’s fielding will cause Ponting some concern. But the luck of the Irish isn’t in Barbados today.

Scorecard

Ireland vs New Zealand

Late again. Well, you get what you pay for around here. In the 18th over, New Zealand are 87 for 3 and while not in trouble exactly are not finding the Irish minnows so easy to deal with. Comment away- I’m off to bed soon so if there’s an upset I want to hear about it here first!

 Scorecard

Wake me up for the semi-finals!

Between being peeved, along the lines that Will has laid out below, and the sheer monotony, I have lost interest. Unless something amazing happens, I won’t be turning on the telly until Australia play England on Sunday night.

Well, tonight Ireland play South Africa, and if Ireland actually get close, you might want to comment here. Fulminate away.

Is this really the best England can do?

It never fails to amaze me reading the contrasting opinions from our feedbackers at Cricinfo while covering these one-dayers, especially with England in such limp form. Of the 1000 or so emails, a fair chunk criticised us for our anti-England stance, accusing us of racism, bias toward Ireland and whatever else. What game were they watching? The one we were watching was between a feisty, energetic team full of lively promise and intent. The other was England at their timid best.
Contine reading

England v Ireland, Super Eights, Providence

The odds of Ireland reaching the Super Eights before the World Cup got underway must have been fairly long. Yet here they are – the tournament’s most slippery of banana skins – about to face the mighty England.

Read Miller’s preview. Check the scorecard. Leave a comment and chat away!

India vs Sri Lanka, West Indies vs Ireland

India go out of the 2007 World Cup if they don’t win tonight’s fixture against Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the Super 8′s start early, with West Indies and Ireland having already qualified in their group; the winner gets a flying start in the main section of the tournament.

I’ll be blunt though and say that my enthusiasm for the 2007 World Cup has been diminished by the tragic murder of Bob Woolmer. It was bad enough when I heard that the house of Mahendra Singh Dhoni had been burnt down by demented Indian fans, and it was made much worse when I heard that Woolmer had died. But murder? The Aussie Rules season starts next weekend, and I’ll probably pay attention to that more then the cricket. Footy players get pretty badly bruised from time to time, but they don’t get murdered for their efforts.

How about you? Is cynicism overwhelming your enjoyment of the cricket?

Religion and politics

“You wouldn’t normally associate cricket with Catholics,” he said after a training session at the Aga Khan ground this week. “It’s more a protestant sport in Northern Ireland. There were always British army troops based in Northern Ireland and Strabane and, perhaps, they would’ve brought it with them. But it’s always had an affection with the locals and it’s been played by all traditions in Strabane.”

That’s what Peter Gillespie, the Ireland allrounder, told me in Nairobi in February. So it was interesting to read this post from an Ireland blogger about his country beating Pakistan and what ramifications it might have.

To a Pakistani, Ireland beating their national team must be a bit like San Marino beating Brazil in soccer. Our national soccer coach was nearly flayed alive (metaphorically) by soccer pundits for nearly drawing against San Marino a few months ago, so I can only imagine what the depth of feeling was in Pakistan when the result came through. That said, our soccer team manager is still alive.. The death of Bob Woolmer in some way underlies the personal emotional turmoil involved when a good team struggles at the top grade.

For Ireland, to have such a success in such an unexpected sport can only be a good thing. It’s quite likely we have a wealth of cricketing talent in the country, as one of our more popular games – hurling – demands very similar skills to cricket. Also, we are beginning to see an easing of the unwritten laws that divided many sports into “Protestant” and “Catholic” games. Such a de-politicisation of sport is very welcome.

“Cricket helped me see the world,” Gillespie said, “but it also helped me see a new outlook – especially growing through a lot of turmoil in Northern Ireland and our town. Cricket was a get-out clause. I was able to get to know all types of different people, backgrounds and religions and it helped me broaden my outlook in general.”

Can cricket, or sport, really depoliticise communities or countries? Recent history has shown cricket, more than most other sports, acts as a victim of politics (last World Cup; Eng/Zim). When has it been the damp cloth, dousing political hot fires? Sorry for the metaphor.

Pakistan and India are a case in point: very nearly at war with one another off the pitch, and definitely in battle when they play cricket. Anyway, just some thoughts. Up the Irish, and all that.