The end of March will mark a huge point in the history of Ireland cricket. If they win the Intercontinental Cup then they will secure themselves as a test cricketing side in 2019. This is the ultimate goal for a Associate member and one that is firmly within their grasp. But there are a few obstacles in their way and the biggest of those is Afghanistan.
Ireland have grabbed the bull by the horns so far in this cup and are sitting comfortable at the top of the table. But at the end of the month they will have to face Afghanistan, the only team truly threatening their position. And if their recent T20 series is anything to go by, it’s Afghanistan who will have the edge and Ireland who will be up against it.
Next Stop: ODIs
Before that game begins Ireland will be playing Afghanistan in a ODI series. This Afghanistan vs Ireland contest is a 5 game series that will prepare both teams for the face-off in just a couple weeks time. It will give Ireland a chance to right the wrongs of previous weeks, a chance to find their feet. They will look to players like Paul Sterling and Gary Wilson to step-up, beat Afghanistan and prove that they deserve their status as a test nation.
And if those players fail to prove their worth and Ireland aren’t able to take control, then everything could begin to fall apart for them in the Intercontinental Cup. At this stage, with their goal within touching distance, that would be a huge shame and one that they won’t recover from in a hurry.
Can Ireland Earn Test Status?
It was initially announced that the winner of the Intercontinental Cup would need to play the lowest ranked Test nation and would be granted Test status if they won that game. However, the board has since announced that there will be a total of 2 new Test nations. This means that the winner of the Intercontinental Cup will be automatically granted status. It should also be a sure-fire thing for the runner-up. That should mean success for both Ireland and Afghanistan, but it’s not quite that simple.
Ireland have won four from four at the top of the table and Afghanistan, sitting behind them, have only won three of their four games. But the other game was a draw, not a loss, and that means that a victory for Afghanistan will push them ahead of Ireland with a few games left to play.
After this game, Ireland will then have to play Scotland and Hong Kong. These are two games you would expect them to win, but many things can go wrong. Several games have been drawn because of the weather, including Scotland and Afghanistan. If the same happens with either of these games for Ireland, it could begin to get nervous in the Irish camp. What’s more, Papua New Guinea, who look like the most likely team to steal their glory, don’t have either Ireland or Afghanistan to play and could easily win their last two games.
But, It’s not Likely
Whatever happens in the Intercontinental Cup, it’s highly unlikely that Ireland will not be a Test nation by 2019 and that Afghanistan won’t be by their side. The only question that should be asked is “can they hold onto that status?” Cricket used to be a game contested between the ten best teams in the world and no one else. It was David vs Goliath anytime one of those ten played the Associate members. That, however, is no longer the case.
The level of quality is increasing throughout the game and there are a number of teams that can steal in there. It just takes a bad run of form, a few injuries or a little bad luck and teams like Ireland could be replaced by Hong Kong, Netherlands, UAE or even Scotland. The Scottish have actually mirrored Ireland’s rise in many ways. What’s more Scottish sport is on the up across the board. Not only has their football team gone back to its glory days and have finally started to compete again, but it’s quickly becoming one of the rising stars of sports like Rugby League and Rugby Union, with plenty more talent on the increase in darts, snooker and many more sports.
They will have their sights set on that Test status, as will many other Associate members. So, while Ireland will likely become a Test nation, the hardest part is going to be keeping a hold of that status.