Cricket has a crippling problem. Yes, you read that right. For too long the proverbial have-nots of the sports have failed to match up to the traditional powerhouses of the game.
Often, and crucially, this has led to the sport’s failure to spread beyond the centuries-old power centres of the gentleman’s game; even in the year 2020, cricket continues to be considered an English idiosyncrasy, a commonwealth pastime with the baggage of English colonial history.
Take the case of Ireland, and the grim picture comes into focus. Ireland are, by no means, a greenhorn in the sport, having secured Test status way back in 2018. However, there is still a gulf in class between the Irish or the Afghans, latest entrants into the elite Test league, and the English or the Indians.
This is a gulf that needs to be bridged for the benefit of the sport. Only then will the process of globalisation of cricket truly begin.
That is why, yesterday’s sterling Irish victory over bitter rivals England by seven wickets is a moment to savour for lovers of the game. For once, the series sparked into life, having seen two facile English wins in the first two matches. For once, the long-term have-nots of the game stopped under-performing.
Sterling, Balbirnie come to the fore
Magic was created under the lights in a surreally empty Ageas Bowl as Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie, the visiting skipper, stitched together an improbable 214-run stand in pursuit of a steep 329-run target set up by Eoin Morgan’s century.
It wasn’t a flawless effort, especially from the unconventional Stirling who also hit five sixes, but it was a sight to behold. With the Irish batting looking decidedly weak in the first two matches of the series, especially against the swing and seam of David Willey, this was a surprise in more ways than one.
Not only did the duo survive for more than 32 overs, they went at a brisk pace and stayed in the hunt till both perished in quick succession. While Stirling used both guile and power to blast the ball into the shorter boundaries and the gaps, Balbirnie was more staid and more classical in his approach.
He seemed to caress the ball to the fence but still went at more than a run a ball in his innings of 113. Stirling hit 142 at a strike rate of 110 in a truly match-winning performance.
Bowlers show more teeth
Even the Irish bowlers troubled the England batsmen at the beginning with their dexterous line and length. Craig Young, in particular, was superb with figures of 3/53 on a pitch that played true and was ideal for run-scoring.
At one stage, England had been reduced to 216/7 and it was Willey and Tom Curran who helped England go well past 300.
We must not forget that Ireland had been here before. In possibly the most famous win of their cricket history, the Irish had chased down a similar total against the same opponents in Bangalore in the 2011 World Cup. The hero of that night, Kevin O’Brien applied the finishing touches yesterday with youngster Harry Tector.
Go back four more years and one will come across another famous Irish win in a World Cup, the defeat of Pakistan by three wickets.
It’s been 13 years since that win, it is time that Irish wins over more fancied opponents stop being a flash in the pan, an upset, it’s time they claimed their place in the sun on a more regular basis.