This series of articles was first published in early 2001.
In an effort to give Irish players the chance to learn from some of the best test players, The Irish Independent, owned by Sir Anthony O'Reilly, of British and Irish Lions and baked bean fame, has sponsored a guest player for three weeks over the past few years. Hanse Cronje, Steve Waugh, Jonty Rhodes (left) and Mark Waugh have spent time in the country playing, coaching and helping promote the game. What they thought of their time here would be an interesting appendix to this chapter. The lowest point of their collective experiences was when Jonty discovered that one of his Irish team mates had been suspended for indulging in a bout of fisticuffs with his opening bowler at three in the morning. The high point came during Hanse's Irish sabbatical and that will be mentioned a bit later.
A story that Steve Waugh recounted involved his batting partner whom he encountered in the middle of the wicket between overs in a match ironically against the Australian 'A' team. Waugh was of the opinion that maybe it was time to accelerate the run rate. 'Off you go then', said the amateur Irish batsman, 'You're the one getting paid'.
The standing of Irish cricket as a minority sport is reflected in the annual grant awarded to the ICU by the Irish Sports Council. In 2001 that amounts to £43,968 and that includes money designated for the Irish Women's Cricket Union, which has recently amalgamated with the ICU. The Northern Ireland Sports Council grant to the Union is £60,000. In October 2000 the Irish Women had to make a large personal contribution to enable them to travel to New Zealand for the World Cup. If one was to judge the importance of a particular sport in the eyes of the Irish Sports Council by the size of grants, you would come to the conclusion that the following are more worthy recipients of funding: Handball (£62,000), Table Tennis (£58,000), Mountaineering (£44,000), Pitch and Putt (£50,000), Volleyball (£72,000). I have no gripes with any of these sports receiving these grants and good luck to them. I am sure they could do with far more.
In world cricket terms Ireland may be a minnow, but we are in the top fifteen in the world and are striving to improve our standing. Money is needed to improve infrastructure, coaching, pitches and for the payment of players at the top level. I am not suggesting that taxpayers money should go towards paying players, that could be covered by sponsorship and the three year plan envisages a massive expansion in private and corporate finance in the game. The Ireland squad needs a reliable core of semi and full time professionals if the status and standards of the game are to improve and they are an absolute necessity if Ireland is to aspire to being a One Day International team.
Major weaknesses in the Irish game are the relatively low standards in club cricket, which means that the better players are not being sufficiently tested week in week out and the generally poor condition of many Irish pitches, which inhibits the development of confident batsmen and good, accurate, line and length bowling. However there are many strengths in the game in Ireland, notably in the successes of the under age sides and the enthusiasm of younger players. It is when the inevitable compromises, inherent in a purely amateur game, become evident usually in the early twenties age group, that progress slows and availability becomes a problem. In the English game many of the better under age players will be contracted to a County side. In Ireland this is very rare, although in recent times we have had four young players try their luck across the water. Ed Joyce of Middlesex (right) is the best known. The two Patterson brothers, Mark and Andy have tried their luck with Surrey and Sussex. A bad injury has cut short Ryan Eagleson's career with Derby, at least for the time being. Over the years the question of which Irish cricketers would have been successful in the professional game has frequently been asked. Dermot Monteith had a short but successful spell with Middlesex in 1981-1982 and there are many players who would have been a success if they had decided to try. However most of the top ranking cricketers were career driven and to many the idea of becoming a professional did not warrant a second thought.
The best known of all was the Phoenix off spinner, Jimmy Boucher, whose career lasted from 1929 until 1954. His control and sharpish off spin could have seen him play for England. Alec O'Riordan, of Old Belvedere, fast left arm and right hand bat also fits into this category. Ivan Anderson, of Waringstown, would have graced any county ground. In a two day match v MCC at Lord's, Ivan was denied two centuries in the same match by the South African Clive Rice, who bowled two overs of bouncers to prevent an Irish win and Ivan's second century. Alf Masood, who was close to playing for Pakistan before he left the country, has easily the best batting average of an Irish player. The hard hitting Masood once was dismissed at Lord's, ten minutes before lunch on the first day, for 136. His interprovincial batting average is 69. The next best is 41!
Dermot Monteith was a gifted slow left arm bowler and captain whose supreme self confidence made him always an interesting companion, both on and off the field. On one occasion I was not only rooming with him but the two of us were both nought not out overnight. The game was against Worcester at New Road. Rooming is not quite the correct word as Dermot seldom used bedrooms. That night was no exception and as I and the bleary eyed Monty set out to face Norman Gifford at 10 am I did not give Ireland much chance of saving the match. Half an hour later I was still nought not out but Monty had reached 40 not out! A hit and run driver finished his career in 1985 but he is still active as an Irish Selector and was President of the ICU in 1999. He was a captain who was not afraid to take chances, such as deciding to bat first at Lord's against Middlesex in Ireland's first ever game in the Gillette Cup in 1980. There was no thought of damage limitation when he was confronted with teams full of test players. He firmly believed he was the third best slow left arm bowler in the world in 1977. When he saw Dilip Doshi in action against Ireland that year he promptly moved himself up the pecking order to second. He was willing to allow Bishen Bedi the pole position. His team talks were direct and to the point and he would not speak for half an hour if one minute would do.
On one occasion, before taking the field at Rathmines against the West Indies, his urgings to his side amounted to an instruction to 'Consider yourselves whipped up'. Monty's rival for the character of the era was undoubtedly Ossie Colhoun, the wicket keeper from Sion Mills. Apart from having a superbly fast pair of hands he had the quickest line in repartee. It was extremely fortunate that the opposition had a pretty limited understanding of what he was saying, delivered as it was in a form of North West Jive. His greatest moment came in 1969 when he kept wicket at Sion against the West Indies on the famous occasion when Ireland dismissed the side that had just drawn the Second Test at Lord's for 25. Ossie is a singer of note, fronting his own band with a mixture of middle of the road pop and country. He was also Ireland's night watchman for many years, however the first time that I saw him in this role, against Scotland at Perth in 1970 he was run out going for a third run!