Reflecting on the past two weeks and the ICC World Cup Under 19 qualifiers, the tournament was an unqualified success for the Irish team. For the ICC however it was far from plain sailing.
Sitting in Gerry Coleman's pub The Field in Cambridge Mass on tuesday two weeks ago making final preparations for the trip to support the Ireland team, my three proposed travel mates questioned the validity of the trip, they were aware of the visa issues of Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, this knowledge might not be strange in the circles of the Irish Cricket community but these three have never held a cricket bat, never bowled a ball, more comfortable with ash than willow.
Further proof of the growing profile of Irish Cricket. We did have a trip together last August to see Munster v USA in rugby and this was our trip for this year. But the rumblings were not good, 'sure maybe the senior side will be in St Lucia in April lets just save the sheckels for that.'
They asked me what did I think, I made some inquiries but got no answers. Nobody had a definite answer but Afghanistan and Sierra Leone at this stage were out. 8 teams 6 qualifiers hardly an experience worthy of the 1500 mile round trip and $1000 per man cost, the lads were out. How could I tell my son he wasn't going to the (Ice) Hockey Hall of Fame, I couldn't.
Arriving at the King City Ground twenty odd miles outside of Toronto, finding the grounds via the Internet and GPS (Gentlemen Prefer Silence when asking directions) we were struck by the facility, four cricket grounds side by side with the pavilion in the middle.
We paid $5 for car parking but were only asked that day. Four games at the same time in the same place, the closest I had ever experienced to this was hearing a howzat (or a shrek or curse if Owen Butler is bowling) from Civil Service or Garda through the trees or over the dog pond while playing for Phoenix.
The Afghan's had eventually arrived, Sierra Leone were denied visas or delayed visas by the Canadian government or applied to the wrong Canadian office, he said she said. They were out.
As the week went on different stories emerged from different sources as to who was to blame, but no report made any mention of the kids who had been denied the trip of a lifetime, a trip they had earned by finishing ahead of countries like Kenya and Namibia.
Uganda made it and played some great cricket they brought colour and friendliness and go home ambassadors for the game which in turn will undoubtedly spread and develop the game further in Uganda providing inspiration to the youth of Uganda.
Sierra Leone a country who have also gone through the effects of war were not so lucky and that is the great travesty of this event.
The Afghan's made it by a whisker had they not made it we would have been denied the interesting match up against the USA. The organizers rescheduled them to play against Ireland the morning after they arrived.
If Sierra Leone did not turn up neither did the two most influential Dutch players, Captain Stijn Allema who scored 246 runs in Jersey where the European qualifier was held in May and averaged 82, and most crucially Alexei Kervezee 474 runs at an amazing 158 with three hundreds, at the same qualifier.
In the ICC World Cup qualifier guide on their site the Netherlands have four bulletin marks, in two Allema is mentioned in three Kervezee is mentioned, neither made it. The Dutch missed out on run rate. So instead of building on the performance of the T20 World Cup with an Under 19 World Cup they must regroup after this failure and the defection of Dirk Nannes.
There is good news for Dutch Cricket though, the week the team were busy preparing to try and qualify for New Zealand, Kervezee signed a new improved two year deal with Worcestershire, coincidence ?
Clearly the ICC and Cricket Canada the were not expecting many spectators for this event as the spectator facilities were virtually non-existent, no promotion, no signage, bring your own everything.
Malton Cricket Club, the other ground used, is a picturesque ground but extremely hard to find, situated behind an empty warehouse the entrance is only by foot via a small bridge between trees. The ground was equipped with one or two portaloo's which was hardly sufficient for players, umpires, officials and the 300 spectators that saw the labor day game against Canada.
It should be noted that Cricket Canada with ICC assistance has done a good job presenting five decent wickets in relatively short notice and with a non cooperative summer, although the past two weeks have been ideal for cricket.
The Malton groundsman did sing the ICC's praises because they had bought the club a small sit on roller prior to the tournament, so Australia, India, South Africa and all the Test playing nations can breathe easy, unless of course you require a heavy roller.
Cricket Canada needs sixteen grounds with quality 'turf' pitches in order to host the 2012 Under 19 World Cup, they also need to ensure the proper removal of the artificial wickets a number of times this week the bounce from ridges from these wickets nearly broke the jaw of several players.
On the plus side Toronto is a fantastic host city, and will make an excellent location for the 2012 Under 19 World Cup provided they get the required investment and guidance on the preparation of facilities, allied with a concerted marketing effort to sell the games, a successful event is probable rather than possible.
Teething problems for the first ever World Cup qualifying tournament were to be expected. Lets hope the ICC learned some lessons in planning, promotion, and crisis management. Moving the 2012 U19 World Cup should simply not happen particularly after the relocation of the 2010 tournament to New Zealand from Kenya.
Zest4Kidz is a charity set up in 2006 by the amazing Stuy and Magi Wilson, Stuy played full back for Old Wesley for over 10 years, played cricket for YMCA and captained the Under 18 side. Next month Stuy takes a team to Uganda to help aid former child soldiers rediscover their childhood, and assimilate into society.
"The young people there have had such a hard time over the last 15 years, that sports has been more than just something to do it's been like an escape from the horrors of war. It's been an embrace of their childhood which the child abductions stole from them. It's play time. Time when they can be just real kids enjoying a sport they love which we in the rest of the cricket playing world take for granted.
I remember playing for YM here every week captaining the U 18 team and a gathering of young people guaranteed fun, sport and competition. In Uganda it meant the opportunity for possible rebel activity and even abduction.
Nowadays there has been relative calm and peace. That's why sports in general must be embraced encouraged and supported. It's an opportunity to promote giving a hand up rather than a hand out witch the Ugandan people appreciate.' Said Stuy.
For more information on Stuy Wilson's charity and his upcoming visit to Uganda please go to www.zest4kidz.com