As cricket supporters know, Ireland go to Toronto in July 2001 to take part in the ICC Trophy, the qualifying competition for the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. The top 3 nations will qualify and Ireland, seeded second, will hope to emulate European neighbours Scotland in the 1999 World Cup and Holland in the previous one. It may be our last chance for some time, as this is probably the last ICC Trophy in its present format and this could the last Irish team capable of making it in the foreseeable future.
Nigel Laughton, the ICC Development Officer for European cricket and a great supporter of Ireland, is moving on. He recently wrote a report as he leaves his post and his thoughts show the likely direction of the ICC Development Committee and as such are of fundamental importance to Irish cricket. He suggests that the top performers from Canada, regardless of geographical location, should be grouped together into a second tier of international cricket. These countries, probably seven in all, which will include those nations that qualify for the 2003 World Cup must, in Laughton's opinion, be exempt from qualifying for the 2005 ICC Trophy. The remaining five places should be made up of the winners of the five regional qualifying tournaments, one of which will be an amended European championship in which Ireland participate, albeit in its present form, next month.
It is to this successful second tier that the ICC will direct future funding. This is of fundamental consequence to Ireland as the European Cricket Council (ECC) budget has increased in the last three years from £50,000 to £500,000 with the ICU budget now £500,000 per annum. The share of the ECC budget accruing to the more successful developing nations depends on our continuing success at ICC Trophy, European Championship and under age levels. He also suggests a second tier "A" team competition and together with Under 19, Under 17, Under 15 and Under 13 competitions, I can see the cost to the ICU becoming immense. Success at all levels is a must, both financially and for the future of Irish cricket. On the credit side, he says that Ireland and other developing nations should not be robbed of the investment they have made in cricketers who have gained contracts with the counties and that Mark and Andrew Patterson, Ryan Eagleson (right) and Ed Joyce will be released for both European Championship games, as well as for the ICC Trophy.
However, it is this correspondent's view that cricket at grass roots level in this country and at club level, has never been worse since the war, and larger efforts and finance will have to be directed to these areas - certainly more so than it is now. With so many people unavailable, for various reasons, to the Irish team, it is becoming obvious that the replacements just are not there. We need twice as many people to play the game at all levels if our standards are to be maintained at the higher level. We have got from the ICC Development programme the opportunity for Irish cricket to progress, this will be our only chance and every effort should be made to grasp it.