Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's Just Not Cricket

 A chance for global success which cannot be ignored any longer...

As the Cricket World Cup looms ever closer, and the Irish as a nation pay it no heed whatsoever, ways of improving our chances of victory at a sport that the English so cherish must surely be at the forefront of many a mind. After a better than expected showing at the previous World Cup this years Irish team will no longer be viewed as a potential whipping boy and instead may hope to take on the mantle of 'dark horse', a title usually reserved for Eastern European teams in a World Cup of a very different nature. A quick glance through the squad listing reveals a smattering of South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders but also surprisingly shows a core base of seemingly home grown players with many playing county cricket across the water. For someone as completely uninitiated such as myself this comes as something as a revelation as I had hitherto believed the Irish team be a cricketing replica of Jack Charlton's famous footballing side from the late 80's/early 90's with most of the players being English born albeit with a tenuous connection to the Emerald Isle. Further investigation in fact reveals that some members of this Irish squad actually played for England in the last World Cup and that the star of Ireland's last campaign is now one of the shining lights of this year's competing English side! However the arcane intricacies of international cricket selection is of no concern to me, my only concern is ways of improving the chances of this Irish side and to me there seems to be a very simple solution to this admittedly seldom pondered conundrum.

We as a nation are rightly proud of our national sport and almost take a perverse pleasure in the fact that it is a sport that is rarely played outside of our shores, unless of course you count the endless scratch games played by homesick Irishmen on the beaches of Australia and the boroughs of America. I am of course talking about hurling, the self proclaimed 'fastest ballgame in the world', a sport with skills levels, physical bravery and levels of athleticism rarely seen in any other sport regardless of it's popularity. That hurling has never transcended to a level where worldwide participation could have been a realistic possibility owes more to it's utter 'Irishness' than any faults or flaws within the sport itself, I'm sure many a foreigner upon witnessing the game in all it's glory would have been moved to mutter something along the lines of 'crazy Irishmen' and vowed never to be coerced into actually picking up a hurley even to only engage in a gentle knockabout. Perhaps it's down to European sensibilities and a reluctance to partake in a game where many might view the hurl as not an instrument capable of producing moments of beauty but more so a weapon to be brandished at will should your fires be stoked, in fact if you were to find comparison in worldwide sport the closest thing to hurling would probably be ice hockey, a sport favoured by Scandinavians, Canadians and other nations where men continue to be men and don't take kindly to being told otherwise. Seeing as it looks unlikely that hurling, and it's skilled participants, will ever receive the audience they deserve through playing the game they love perhaps there's another way of letting the world know all about Henry Shefflin, Lar Corbett and all the other doyens of the game. 

I realise that to automatically assume that converting from one stick wielding, ball catching sport to another should be as seamless as a worn cricket ball is the practise of the foolhardy but I can't help wondering if, given the opportunity and correct training, our hurlers could make the transition and in the process lead the Irish side to global success in that most un Irish of games. Perhaps this year's World Cup has come too soon and even the most intense of accelerated crash courses in cricket couldn't ready the hurlers for facing the best Australia, India and the West Indies have to offer, but if we start now and put the wheels in motion for the Cricket World Cup in 2015 then victory on a global scale could easily be ours. There is the small matter of the ever covetous GAA intervening and preventing the hurlers from carousing off to foreign climes for what they would see as nothing more than a jamboree, but until they dig deep in their pockets and re numerate their players for their efforts they can have no grounds for complaint. I'm sure the various bosses and foremen of our the hurlers would have no qualms about letting their staff head off to do their country proud and anyway such would be the groundswell of support from an increasingly enthusiastic cricketing fraternity they would have no choice but to let them go for fear of being lynched.

As I said earlier I am aware of how foolhardy this idea is, even more so seeing as I've never even played hurling never mind cricket, but surely even the most casual of observers can see that so many elements that go into making a great hurler could be equally utilised in the more sedate game of cricket. A batsman in cricket takes to the field wearing enough padding and protection to survive a nuclear war as he faces up to the prospect of having an admittedly rock hard ball flung at him continually for potentially hours on end, obviously a huge amount of concentration and cojoneshurleys attempting to rearrange his features. With batsmen and fielding roles all fulfilled there is obviously one glaring problem with my argument, namely who would bowl? Although many handpasses can seem like throws to the naked eye hurling is a sport where although sleight of hand is encouraged throwing the ball is not, so how do we acquire bowlers for this new revolutionary Irish side? Well the answer lies within. 

Over the last ten years or so the populace of Ireland has changed in a manner which none of us saw coming, whereas at one time an English voice would have been considered exotic we're now in a situation where seeing an Irish face on your local high street is something of a novelty. But what of these new immigrants, how can they help us in the way we've undoubtedly helped them? I'm sure there's many ways they can help us ( yes I'm talking about you Polish women ) but in the context of this argument then the finger is quite squarely pointed at our new brethren from the lands of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, all of these nations have a quite strong cricketing pedigree and I'm sure amidst the many folk that have made Ireland their home there's surely at least a few hundred who brought some cricketing expertise along with them. I'm not suggesting an army style draft where we send menacing posters proclaiming 'Your Country Needs You' to their houses, but it's possible that these people quite miss playing their national game and would relish the opportunity to be part of a new potential cricketing revolution in their new home. Whether they wish to take on the role of coach, player, sporting director or merely advisor is purely up to them but if our new team is to learn the finer points of throwing a googly and other such peculiarities then we're going to need such expert assistance.

So now all that remains is to convince a few hundred people of the inspired nature of this idea and how it is our destiny to become the finest cricketing nation on earth. There will most likely be plenty of opposition to the idea from hurling fans worried by the prospect of losing some of our players to professional cricketing contracts but come on now, our hurlers have been reared on the thrust and counter thrust of the national game and any sortie into another sport will merely be an entertaining diversion, albeit a highly successful one, until the Championship begins again the next summer. In fact the chances are that the exposure given to the players during the Cricket World Cup will get people talking and wondering where these fine and supremely talented young men have come from. Day trippers from Japan will suddenly become commonplace at Kilkenny games and much in the same way as Manchester United fans have become disillusioned with their diluted support so the same will happen to the black and amber brigade, thankfully the fact that it's still all about who you know and not how much money you have when it comes to getting tickets for the big games will ensure that they find their ways into the right hands when it really matters. But it won't stop at daytripping fans either, in time some of the cricketers having seen the hi jinks that their Irish compatriots get up to during the summer months will pen letters of resignation to their local boards and arrive in their county of choice citing whatever ancestry it takes to get them into the panel for Sunday's big game. Now wouldn't that be the ultimate irony, Englishmen abandoning the most English of sports to play in a game so marred by their countrymen in times past.