Scrapyard Alsatians

It’s been a hard watch this past month covering the Wolves on their tour of Bangladesh. Doing the live commentary I followed every ball and it’s fair to say the hosts outplayed us in all facets of the game. Annihilated in the four-day game, competitive but second best in the 50-over series, and way off the pace in the T20 encounter.

I’ve just been reading an article about England/GB hockey and how their media department have discouraged/ignored the recent three match series against Ireland Women. Their argument is that these are uncapped matches and used essentially for training purposes allowing coaches to experiment. That memo to the media thankfully didn’t reach RTE or BBC NI who covered the games extensively.

I’m not a stupid man. I get that Graham Ford and Stuart Barnes were trying new permutations in the batting order, while young bowlers were given an extended opportunity at times to show what they can do. However, apart from a few instances, there wasn’t much to get the juices flowing.

A second new ball spell from Mark Adair and Graham Hume, a boundary blitz from Lorcan Tucker, some Ruhan Pretorius runs, and a few leggies from Ben White the highlights of a month where too often we were second best.

What worries me most is that this was half our senior team against what was essentially a Bangladesh Third XI comprised primarily of their admittedly very successful Under 19 side.

On my daily walk I pass a car breakers/scrapyard where two half-starved Alsatians discourage loitering. Their snarling, slightly manic growls always ensure my pace quickens on this stretch of the road. Watching the Bangladeshis go about their business I couldn’t help but be impressed.

They looked lean, mean, hungry, competitive and talented. This was their chance and every one of them looked determined to take it. In a country where there are hundreds if not thousands competing for every international slot, it’s a dog eat dog environment and while they may not have the rip your throat out approach of say Afghanistan, they were definitely edgier than Bangladesh sides of years gone by, a hardness to go with their talent.

Ireland by contrast looked soft. Pampered poodles was my first thought, but on reflection perhaps big bouncing Labradors, who would roll over and have their bellies tickled, rather than going for the jugular if I dared break into their territory. I wasn’t expecting a pack of Wolves, but hoped for a few Irish terriers.

We get it too easy. It’s not life or death for our guys. Look at the Afghans who see it as their way out. Success and they can bring their family a better life. Every time Rashid gets a T20 contract it means more of his family can live in Dubai and boy does he play as if his and their lives depend on it.

On the subject of Rashid, he bowled a few balls short of 100 overs last week in their Test win against Zimbabwe (remember Test cricket anyone?). Curtis Campher by contrast was ‘having his workload managed’ and during the entire tour bowled the sum total of one competitive over. Now, I’m no Luddite but there’s something badly wrong with our thinking if that’s following the technology.

I’m a realist, having used to be an eternal optimist. One of the consequences of growing older, greyer and wiser (maybe). I don’t think I’ve ever been more concerned about the lack of quality and depth in the ranks.

The sports journalist Martin Johnson died from throat cancer at the weekend. He famously wrote that there was only three things wrong about the England touring side for the 1986/87 Ashes series - they couldn’t bat, bowl or field.

England went on to win the Ashes, plus two one-day series playing some of the best cricket they’ve produced in the last 100 years. To be fair to Martin he wrote at the end of the campaign, “right quote, wrong team.” One of his other famous lines concerned Shane Warne's Ball of the Century.

"How anyone can spin the ball the width of Mike Gatting boggles the mind....."

I’d love nothing more than this Wolves team to prove me wrong. There is undoubtedly talent there, but we didn’t see enough of it. Graham Ford and co will have had a chance to work with the players at close quarters for a month full-time. He’s not a stupid man, and it’ll be interesting to see just who survives what has been a chastening tour.

No Women, No Cry

It was International Women’s Day last week and I fully expected announcement of fixtures against Scotland and hopefully a Full Member too. The long wait would be over. I thought there was a war that lasted 1000 days and Googled it. Turns out it was a civil war in Colombia. Hard to work that into a cricket article - store it away and hope it comes up on in later years on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'

The day started brightly enough with ICC revealing a modest expansion of World Cup tournaments. Cricket Ireland then produced an article by Ger Siggins on the history of the women’s game here. As you’d expect from Ger, well researched, written and interesting. So far, so good.

Alarm bells started to ring when the next proclamation from headquarters was a colouring in book. Okay, I thought, slightly bizarre but surely it’s time now for the big reveal? Nope, next up was a quiz asking such toughies as who are the sponsors?

I had a question. When are Ireland Women going to play next? Alas, soon came the bad news. No series against Scotland in La Manga. The long wait would continue.

I can only imagine the pain of the players, who must now be past the disillusioned stage. I have too some sympathy for Cricket Ireland whose options of opponents are severely limited. That was all too evident by them trying to play Scotland, just months after our celtic cousins pulled out of a series at the last minute.

I thought of my late mother who coming from a Brolly/O'Neill background would give the shirt off her back to anybody who needed it, but woe betide anyone who crossed her. She held grudges for years and years. No way would we be playing Scotland if she was at the helm...Her letter wriiting was the stuff of legend if she felt wronged. Traders, employers, educational estabishments all got the treatment. Boy, did she write a good letter.

Of course it’s been a tough year. I understand that. The countries who have the finances to play us aren’t interested, while our peers can’t at the minute. There is no excuse though for the decade that preceded it. A serious lack of under-investment in the women’s game. Lip service paid. Even now with the small moves forward, I’m told the split in the value of contracts is 7% women v 93% men. Surely it’s time for an annual increase of a few percent over the next ten years to ensure greater fairness? There is a great opportunity to really push the game here. Don’t waste another ten years.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

There was good news yesterday as the sun shone and the temperature gauge got as high as 15c. The good old NI Executive announced that outdoor training could start again on April 12th.

It seems likely that the NorthWest and NCU seasons will get under way in early May, albeit T20 for the first part of the season at least. For Leinster and Munster sides the wait will go on. It could be at least another month or two before the green light is given.

Although there has been no formal announcement, I can’t see any Irish or National Cups again this year. The best chance of an All-Ireland event would be a similar T20 competition to last year, with the four T20 regional winners playing.

St Patrick’s Day remebered

We are busy compiling a tribute brochure for Roy Torrens, and it’s been great collating the memories of past players, officials, media and administrators. We have been fortunate that organissations and individuals have come forward to help in covering the costs of printing.

14 years ago on this day came the game that changed Irish cricket forever. A scriptwriter couldn’t have penned it better. Beating Pakistan in a World Cup on St Patrick’s Day on a Saturday, which with the time difference meant packed pubs watching an Irish team win at prime time. Didn’t get better than that.

The celebrations were on another level. Held at the Sunset Grand in Ocho Rios, it went on, and on. Soon the beer ran out, then the various spirits, rum, vodka, whisky, until even the liquers nobody ever drinks vanished.

The boys from Killymallaght had been upgraded to the resort after a travel agent mix-up. An all-inclusive hotel with drinks and meals available around the clock.

Roy asked them what their rooms were like?

“Don’t know. We have only been here three days,” they replied. The Ireland team weren’t the only ones to get a good result that week …