Is Ireland Cricket fighting a lost cause ?

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On July 9th 2013, Ireland became the first Associate nation to qualify for the 2015 World Cup. However there are good chances that most of the cricketing world would have missed the high intensity drama that day in Amstelveen as Ireland pulled off a thrilling last-ball tie against their Dutch hosts.

For long, Ireland has been at the forefront of rising standards and profile of Associate and Affiliate cricket around the world. The World Cup 2015 will be Ireland's sixth global event, with the side having already competed in the 2007 and 2011 editions, as well as the ICC World Cup Twenty20 in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

During the 2007 event in the Caribbean, the Irish broke many hearts when their motley bunch of amateurs-including a postman, a farmhand, a school teacher and an electrician-defeated Pakistan. Four years hence, Kevin O' Brien smashed the fastest century in World Cup history as Ireland defeated England in extraordinary fashion.

If Irish player expectations have soared, then so too have those of supporters and administrators. In the last three years, Ireland have been defeated just four times in 42 ODI's by their fellow Associates and Affiliates, clearly establishing their kingpin status in the Associate world.

With seemingly no more lands to conquer, Cricket Ireland recently announced that it will apply for full membership of ICC, with ambitions for Test status by 2020. But without a clear roadmap for graduating to the next level and reluctance on the part of ICC to define , let alone create one after the premature and hurried elevation of Bangladesh - Irish players seem to have become flustered.

In a sport like cricket, careers are finite and the lure of better opportunities (read Test Cricket) has proved overpowering for some.

From the likes of Ed Joyce who once went astray only to find out that he was not in England's scheme of things for Test Cricket to limited overs giant Eoin Morgan-who has slipped down England's pecking order in the longer version of the game, Cricket Ireland has been rendered helpless in preventing its players from representing England. Another Irish star, fast bowler Boyd Rankin has just recently become a part of England setup and it won't be long before the talented 21-year old left-arm spinner George Dockrell is lapped up by them.

It's clear that the quality of cricketers being produced by the emerald isle is not a problem. One argument against Ireland's elevation is lack of stadia. Ireland currently host their home matches at Stormont in Belfast and Clontarf in Dublin, each having a capacity of over 5,000 spectators for internationals. But with the under construction stadia in Malahide, planned to have a capacity of over 10,000 to be completed in the next two months, Ireland will be able to spread its fixtures between three top quality venues.

Another argument puts forth the fact that Ireland has no domestic first-class structure in place. Ireland's chief executive, Warren Deutrom has outlined a plan to establish a provincial first-class structure, although the plans are still in a nascent stage. It is important to note that Bangladesh received their Test status before their first-class competition could be properly established. Only in the season following their first Test match, did the National Cricket League become a first-class competition.

With seemingly all the bases covered, where is Ireland cricket heading? Test Nations continue to ignore their improving one-day results since it doesn't make financial sense to play them. The ICC, despite its rhetoric about globalizing the game, doesn't act to stem the talent drain.

With a number of Irish players playing in the highly-competitive County circuit, Ireland should be better prepared for Tests than say, players from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Moreover providing Test status would help them retain quality players and feature in more top-level competitions. At least their ODI record shows they are good enough. For the moment though, it remains an agonizing wait for Irish cricket fans and its cricketers, for whom, Test status still seems a distant dream.

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