Trinity deserved better
This week Malahide hosts the fourth Newstalk 106-108 FM Interprovincial Championship match of the season. Holders Leinster Lightning will be intent on stretching their lead at the top of the table as they target a second victory of the season against the North-West Warriors.
The match was originally scheduled to be played at College Park but, apparently on the foot of complaints about the quality of the wicket in Lightning’s win against the Northern Knights two weeks ago, a decision was made to make the switch. While the wicket was on the slow side it certainly did not warrant some of the adverse comments made about it particularly those of a vitriolic nature.
Trinity is one of the finest settings in the country especially on a sunny day and the number of people watching the game during the first two days would put many English County grounds to shame. Yes I am aware that many watching were students who had just completed their exams and wanted to chill out with a beer but on the several occasions when I walked round the boundary it was clear that the majority of those there were actually watching the cricket.
The scoring was slow at times particularly on the first morning but as Andrew Poynter demonstrated in both innings, good technique allied to a positive attitude was more than enough to score runs at a very acceptable rate in multi-day cricket.
The players realise that the next ten weeks will be a defining time for the chance to board the plane to Australasia next February and that is being reflected in the performances to date. The awareness of the importance of the Inter-pros in determining if a player has both the technique and the temperament to step up to International level has not been lost on the majority of the participants.
Phil Simmons has been to every match to date and he will have been encouraged by a number of performances while at the same time waiting to see if those who have made the early running can maintain their form over the rest of the summer.
The reality is that club form, no matter how impressive the stats are, will no longer be sufficient to get a place in the Ireland squad and the only way for Irish based players to make the breakthrough is by stating their case at Inter-pro level. This is equally as relevant for home bred players as it is for those who have come to Ireland to qualify to play for our national team. On several occasions I have written about four players in particular from overseas who seemed the most likely to attract the attention of Phil Simmons and at the mid-point of the season their performances are worth reviewing.
Three of them, Nick Larkin, James Cameron-Dow and Nathan Waller, are in the Northern Knights team and to date they have produced useful rather than standout displays. Larkin hit the headlines last season with a remarkable 247 not out against Leinster Lightning and augmented that by being the top run scorer in his home city during the winter in Sydney grade cricket.
In all four innings this season in the Inter-pros he has got a start but failed to carry on to a meaningful total. He was unfortunate in College Park when he looked good in both innings, especially when driving the ball, but fell victim to a run out on both occasions.
Cameron-Dow has been Knights main spin weapon and the tall left arm bowler has snared seven wickets so far, all of them being batsmen rather than tail-enders. Despite his height he flights and spins the ball well and has a good economy rate but he is competing for a place in the Ireland squad with George Dockrell.
It is likely that he will get an opportunity in the Sri Lanka and Scotland matches if, as expected, Dockrell is absent because of his Somerset commitments but it is difficult to see how he can make the World Cup squad as Ireland will not take two left arm spinners and so for the time being Cameron-Dow will have to content himself with the role of Dockrell’s understudy.
Waller has shown glimpses of his undoubted talent but they have been too infrequent to make a compelling case for inclusion in the Ireland set-up. Although he has been recovering from an injury that has impacted on his bowling the reality is that there are at least half a dozen bowlers of his type in the three Inter-pro squads that have been more threatening, such as Eddie Richardson and Shane Getkate (who in my view has been one of the stars of the competition to date) and his batting has not compared favourably with several other seam bowling all-rounders.
The fourth player is Simmi Singh and his problem has been getting into the Lightning team. He missed out on the first three day game and also in their only one day game to date. While he has been arguably been the best off spinner in Leinster club cricket for the past couple of seasons it would appear that Lightning skipper John Mooney does not see it that way.
At College Park Singh was asked to deliver only six overs during the match while retired International bowler Albert van der Merwe sent down thirty two. Singh also showed his ability with the bat when in his second innings 48 he was every bit as fluent as Andrew Poynter in the most vibrant partnership of the match.
The use of players in the Inter-pros does raise the question of what is the primary purpose of these matches. Inter Union rivalry always stirs some interest but surely the primary objective is to identify players who can enhance the Ireland cause. Other than bringing a level of experience the question has to be asked of the value of former Internationals being afforded dominant roles in these games. If they are still available for Ireland that is fine but if not then they should be confined to a mentoring role.
The winning or losing of the competitions should be secondary to the identification and development of potential Ireland players and if that includes players born outside of Ireland that is fine by me. In the past two and a half years England has used no less than seventeen players at International level who were not born there.
That is the way of the modern cricket world and there is no point in shedding crocodile tears about it. Provided that a player is committed to playing for Ireland and he is prepared to play most of his cricket here then if he is good enough there is no reason to exclude him at the expense of someone of inferior ability. The College Park match illustrated the changing face of Irish cricket with no less than twelve of the twenty two players on view being born outside the island yet only one, Imad Wasim, is not qualified to wear the green.
It is true that the higher the standard of Inter-pro cricket the more benefit there will be to the Ireland cause. There has been a lot of discussion recently about extending the number of teams in the competition to four. A case has been made for the inclusion of Munster while others have argued that Leinster should be split into two sides and there was also the suggestion that an exiles team should be included.
There is no point in adding Munster at present because quite simply they would not be competitive and the value of the Inter-pros would be undermined by distorted performances. Munster has targeted 2016 to join the T20 element of the competition and that is a more realistic ambition and hopefully a lot more Ireland qualified players will be available to them by then.
An exiles side is a non-runner because most of the players who are competing in England are playing regularly for county sides and would not be available while some of those who are playing 2nd X1 or MCCC cricket, such as Mark Adair and Shane Getkate, are also usually available for their Provinces.
The old Inter-pro competition did feature two Leinster sides and this argument has the strongest case. However if it is to fulfil its primary objective the competition has to be about quality and not quantity. Are there really some twenty five Irish qualified players in Leinster capable of making the step up to International cricket? While there is no doubt a desire to improve the standard it will not be achieved by diluting the quality.
My solution to increase the level of competition and to measure Irish qualified players against the highest level available would be to only allow those players to compete for the three Union teams but have a fourth side in the competition until such time as Munster become competitive. That fourth side would be a team composed of professionals playing for club sides in Ireland.
The majority of these players have experience of first class cricket and many of them have a disproportionate influence on their club’s results. Next season their contracts should include a clause that insists that they are available for selection to a team to take on the other three Inter-pro teams.
Yes I realise that it would distort the Inter-pro concept but properly managed would raise the standard and give a much better insight into the abilities of our next generation of potential internationals. It would also enhance the case for first class status for the three day competition.