Thirteen years have elapsed since they played at Kensington Oval, but since then Irish cricket has risen to greater things, including Test status. The 2020 visit to Barbados in competition with three ODI matches against West Indies is long overdue, although the teams have been competing all over the world in between.
Historic Memories
Of course, Ireland’s greatest day was in 1969, which the West Indies will want to forget. The setting was at Sion Mills in County Tyrone just after the Lord’s Test between West Indies and England, and from all accounts the players were tired after arriving, not plied with hospitality prior to the match. Next day it was normal for the visitors to open first, but on the green pitch the Irish bowlers proved to be experts and wickets fell rapidly from Alec O’Riordan and Dougie Goodwin with some good catching. At one stage they were 12-9, but staged a revival of a sort to reach 25! The shock news was relayed from the media all over the world, and it prompted the former Ireland Cricket President Dr Billy Ritchie at the time to quip…”We had them 12 for 9 and let them off the hook!” And don’t forget West Indies also toured in Ireland in 1928 after they attained Test Status during a visit to England at the same time. It was played at College Park, Dublin and JB Ganley was the Ireland skipper. It was a thriller and Ireland was victorious. But enough of Irish victories, as the West Indies rebounded many times over the years, and Ireland suffered several trouncing defeats that followed.
Ireland Resurgence
The transformation within Irish cricket was huge in comparison to West Indies. Prior to the 1990s the West Indies made ‘social’ visits to Ireland and Scotland. Several players were often excused as the England series were long tours, but in contrast the Ireland matches were the highlights. Ireland had to become more competitive at the time, but it was a long journey, and in due course the strategy changed as overseas players with Irish origins were added. These players, mainly from Australia and South Africa, strengthened the quorum. In addition, top Coaches South African Adi Birrell, and later West Indian Phil Simmons were the jewels in the crown. They brought a new dimension to professionalism, and the administration bought into the new culture with player’s contracts and a modern era. Ireland were better suited to limited overs competition, and the biggest milestone was at World Cup 2007 in the Caribbean after they won against the Associate Member countries. Against all odds, Ireland tied with Zimbabwe and then later defeated Pakistan to reach the next group stage. Ireland had arrived, and better was to follow when they defeated England in the World Cup 2011 in India. Kevin O’Brien proved the hero when he scored an unforgettable century in 50 balls! Irish cricket can be defined as past and present. In the past they were all amateurs until 25 years ago, but the transformation was critical. The Irish Cricket Union was replaced with a new brand “Cricket Ireland”, and in due course, a new fulltime CEO Warren Deutrom was added to the team. He has deservedly been credited with much of the present set-up within Irish cricket, which now boasts over 30 full time employees, Interprovincial series, and cricket at every level throughout Ireland from Under 9. Irish cricket can only get better, and another step in the right direction will be competing with the three ODI matches in January.
Bajan-Irish Connections
It is interesting that West Indies, and in particular Barbadian players, have also played in Ireland. They include Henderson Wallace, a former Under-19 pace bowler. Big Hendy is best known after completing over 20 years every season at Eglinton, Londonderry, and Leinster in Dublin. Calvin Hope played at Downpatrick in 1981, and Jerry Kirton played at Strabane. Other West Indians included Herbert Chang, Tony Johnson, Everton Mattis, Mark and Roger Harper. Mark played at onaghcloney and Roger at Woodvale in Belfast. Sir Everton Weekes made several visits to Northern Ireland. He joined with Sir Clyde Walcott to celebrate the opening of Holywood clubhouse, and then was honoured in 1996 in a dinner ceremony after his Knighthood. North Down also invited him to mark the Sesquicentenary Dinner in 2007. Sir Garfield has made a several visits including when he captained a West Indies Select XI at Limavady in 1961, and he visited The Green at Comber when an NCU XI played a Barbados Select XI. Of course, Sir Garfield also played at Royal County Down golf course on the same trip. He has also made other visits promoting Barbados tourism and a Sports luncheon where he was the Guest Speaker.
The Present
The modern era involves three different disciplines-Test, ODI and T20 cricket. Ireland are the rookies in Test cricket, but better suited to the shorter game. West Indies should be better as ODI World Ratings have them currently placed 9th, but ominously just two above Ireland. Both teams have a huge incentive to perform against their rivals. Pre World Cup 2019 in England last July, Ireland missed out on the Qualifying Tournament and West Indies and Afghanistan qualified. That’s why good performances are so important and why the January matches are vital for each country.