Gerard Siggins, Sunday Tribune
It is 100 days since Ireland's first World Cup game - that thrilling tie against Zimbabwe in Sabina Park. The highlight of that incredible day was Jeremy Bray's marathon century, but the last 100 days have taken their toll on the opening batsman.
On returning from the Caribbean, he played four games in the Friends Provident Trophy (51 runs at 12.75) before deciding to take a break. At first it was portrayed as part of Phil Simmons plan to rotate rest periods between the jaded players who had been on the go since early January. But Bray still hasn't gone back. "I was a bit tired and needed a rest", he explained this weekend, "at least that was the initial plan. But it's hard to get to training because I live so far away. My wife has her own hair salon business so organising childcare has become a big issue. The reality is that it costs me money to play for Ireland."
Bray is deeply unimpressed with the ICU's efforts to move towards a professional footing. "It's just a joke", he says, "But I'm not surprised -- that's the Irish Cricket Union for you". The ICU had promised the players they would accelerate their plans to make the Ireland set-up semi-professional by 2009, but the contracts seem to have been put on hold until the Future Cup series is over and the books balanced.
"I've been able to sit down and take a rest and play a bit for the Hills. They're a great bunch of guys and it's less stressful." Bray has rewarded the Milverton club with some key innings, including a blistering century in the LHW 20:20 last weekend.
That was his biggest innings since that unbeaten 115 against Zimbabwe, after which Bray's World Cup went a bit pear-shaped - scores of 3, 41, 0, 0, 1, 1, 31, 20 - and there was a feeling that his technique had been found out under the glare of the tv cameras.
"Well, I was facing the best bowlers in the world. Very few opening batsmen - maybe only Hayden and Gilchrist - did well against the white ball." Only eight of the 20 centuries scored at the CWC were made by men at the top of the order, and half of them by the Aussie pair -- and one by the adopted Kilkennyman.
There are plenty more games for Ireland this year, including an ODI against the West Indies in Clontarf. "I'd like to get back in", he admits, "but I haven't had a chance to talk about it to Phil Simmons yet." He had a "sparing" conversation with Trent Johnston but knows he has some way to go before he returns to the fold. "I'll have to sit down with Phil, Trent and the powers that be in the ICU over the next couple of weeks and put everything on the table. I hope it doesn't get to me giving it all up, but we need to get it all out in the open and see what's on offer."
He plays for the Hills today against Rush in Kenure Park. But while he's facing Iqbal, Gul and Metcalfe he could be up against Steyn, Ntini and Nel. The rest of us might be happier with the gentler pace of the Rushians, but Bray knows where he should be. Ireland can ill-afford to be without a batsman of his class.