Irish cricket on an upward curve
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Thursday, April 15 carries bitter-sweet memories for William Porterfield. The captain of Ireland's cricket team played his 100th one-day international that day, but apart from the personal milestone he had little to celebrate, as they lost by six wickets to the West Indies at Sabina Park.
The diminutive lefthander was not crying in his milk when the Sunday Gleaner caught up with him the next day at the team's hotel in Kingston.
Porterfield, 25, was focusing on improved performances in the two Twenty20 matches against the Windies this weekend, and a competitive showing in the ICC World Twenty20 tournament later this month.
"We've been fortunate to be getting more and more games against the bigger teams since the (2007) World Cup and that's what we need," said the fair-haired opening batsman. "If we can guarantee more games against the bigger nations it also makes it easier for us at the administrative level."
Ireland are arguably the top International Cricket Council (ICC) associate team. Their stocks got a major bump three years ago when they reached the Super 8 of the World Cup. They scored a shock-win over Pakistan and tied with Zimbabwe in the preliminary round which was played at Sabina. In the Super 8, they defeated Bangladesh, with Porterfield scoring an heroic 87.
The last three years have been busy for the Irish who appeared in the World Twenty20 tournament in England last year, and toured the United Arab Emirates and Kenya.
Porterfield said interest in the game has grown considerably in Ireland since the last World Cup. "There are a lot more clubs getting formed and there are more kids playing the game and that means a positive effect on the national team in years to come," he said.
Porterfield has a respectable record at the ODI level, but has also done well in the first-class game for Gloucestershire in English County Cricket. In 36 matches, he has scored 1,900 runs (average 32.20) with two centuries.
He is one of five players in the current Irish squad with first-class experience. Naturally, they would all like to play Test cricket but he admits that's merely a pipe-dream.
"Ultimately, we want to play Tests but that is a bit off at the moment," he said. "It's also important we play longer games but we don't have that structure in Ireland."
The Irish situation is similar to that of Zimbabwe in the 1980s. Though the African team was competitive as an ICC associate against A teams from Test-playing nations, it was not until 1992 that they were granted Test status.
Several Zimbabwean players, eager to play Tests, looked elsewhere. The most notable was prodigious Worcestershire batsman Graeme Hick who played 65 matches for England. Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan, two of Ireland's most promising players, have done the same. Both have played county cricket for Sussex and Middlesex respectively, and represented England in ODIs.
Last November, respected cricket writer Peter Roebuck lobbied for Ireland to be given an opportunity at the highest level.
"Ireland's current application for Test status ought to be taken seriously. Indeed, it ought to be accepted, and that means convincing at least seven of the 10 established nations to give it the green light," Roebuck argued. "Not that the Irish can start playing Test cricket next month. Instead a timetable is required to give that fine land time to complete its preparations."
Porterfield hails from London-derry, a flashpoint during the years of unrest in Northern Ireland. Though cricket trailed behind football and rugby in terms of popularity, he said it had strong appeal in his hometown of Donananna. He played for the Irish team at the Under-13 and Under-14 levels, then in the Under-19 World Cup in Bangla-desh in 2004. He made his senior debut against Scotland in 2006 and was a member of the team that shocked Pakistan in the World Cup one year later.
His classy innings in the win over Bangladesh earned him a contract with Gloucestershire.
While playing Test cricket is his ultimate sporting ambition, Porterfield is aware of the ICC's rigid requirements to play at the highest level.
"As it stands now I'd like to play as many World Cups for Ireland as possible and play county cricket as long as I can and be as successful as possible," he said.