Friday, 18 March 2011

Ireland and Holland

Ireland and Holland play each other today, in their final games of this World Cup. While they've only mustered one win from their 10 games not against each other, they can look back at a World Cup where some of their players came of age.

Ryan ten Doeschate, if the world hadn't heard of him already from his numerous spells in T20 sides worldwide, have certainly heard of him following his two World Cup centuries. Paul Stirling's big hitting feats have also seen him catapulted to stardom, as well as his spinning exploits alongside the excellent George Dockrell. William Porterfield's captaincy has been up there amongst the best in the tournament, and he's won many plaudits with the way he's handled himself and his team throughout the World Cup. And of course, the star of the show for the Associates this World Cup has obviously been Kevin O'Brien, with his astonishing 100 against England unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry.

The Group B "minnows" Ireland and Holland have both been far more competitive than their Group A counterparts. Ireland have given really good games to Bangladesh, India and the West Indies (and of course beat England) whereas Holland have at times been the better side in a few of their games. However, in some of those close games, they've lacked the experience and know how of big games to get over the line - something the bigger sides knew how to do (except England, obviously).

It's often spoken that a "golden generation" will happen every now and again with the minnows, before they drift off into obscurity. A prime example of this is seen in Kenya - semi-finalists in 2003 but massively struggling in this edition. The main reason for that - a lack of regular games against top class opposition. These Irish and Dutch sides could also be classed as a golden generation, but they will need to play regular matches against the big boys in order to keep match sharp, and to improve their skills.

Both of these teams are in Europe - only a short hour long flight away from England. This summer, Sri Lanka and India will visit English shores for test and ODI series. Wouldn't it make perfect sense for Ireland or Holland to become involved in these games? We've seen in the seven-match borefest between Australia and England that bi-lateral ODI series can get slightly dull after a while, so why not introduce an associate side for a tri-series?

Administrators should enjoy it, as Ireland and Holland would bring plenty of vocal fans, as well as getting rid of the unneccessary dead rubbers that often finish series. It benefits the players of the test sides involved, as they are able to motivate themselves to play against new, different opposition, rather than groundhog day against the guys they've been slogging away against all summer. And it benefits the associates more than anyone else, as they are given the much needed experience of regular top-class cricket, where skills can be practiced and developed. And it attracts their players to remain in green or orange colours, instead of trying for moves to bigger sides. Surely this is a great idea for everyone?

This Ireland side could certainly be seen as a golden generation. They've got a young captain, young bowlers and a youthful batting line up. If allowed to develop and grow, they could really create some shockwaves in world cricket over the next few years. However, if not, they could fall apart, and not even be competitive (see here Kenya '11). If the ICC are serious about the development of the associate nations, they have to include teams like Ireland and Holland (and even Kenya, Canada, Scotland, USA, UAE, Italy and the Vatican City) in regular games against the regular countries. Yes, the fixture list is congested, but if pointless fifteen match ODI series between New Zealand and West Indies is changed to a five match tri-series including Afghanistan, then surely the benefits will be far greater than the few extra dollars from Star Sports. We've seen at this World Cup that the minnows are ready to take on the big boys - and don't forget Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996 only a few years after being considered minnows themselves.

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