The recent players’ survey on the Irish grounds used for international games made for very uncomfortable reading for the clubs concerned. But was it fair? In terms of benchmarking, you certainly aren’t comparing like for like. Bready, Clontarf, Malahide and Stormont are fine grounds in their own right, but aren’t Lord’s, The Rose Bowl or Sabina Park by any stretch of the imagination.

This is what the survey had to say about the venues, with all found to be well below international standard by the players. Marked out of 5, with 4 being international level standard, Malahide was marked 3.4, Clontarf 2.9, Stormont 2.75, and Bready 1.9.

Outfield drainage has improved but needs additional work to meet the required standard.
Match wickets tend to be softer and play slower and lower compared to other venues.
The outfield is too small for International Cricket and would need to be improved however possible.
The ground staff make a large amount of effort but face the toughest conditions of all four current International venues which greatly effects their output.
More covers are required at the venue overall as a priority.

The wicket played a little up and down but performed as expected given it was used a year earlier than it was supposed to be.
The centre wicket cages/nets need to be more robust and longer to improve safety issues.
Practice wickets away from the main square would help the groundsman with maintaining on-field wickets.
The boundary size is too small for international cricket but cannot be adjusted.

Training pitches need more grass on the wicket to improve.
New nets with a roof would improve safety concerns and reduce the loss of training balls.
More ground staff on match day would allow for playing time to be maximised wherever possible.
Increased staffing levels at the venue would reduce the workload of those in place and allow standards to increase.
Exaggerated seam movement and excessive bounce at the start of the first innings in matches against Zimbabwe.

Addition of off-field grass nets would relieve pressure on the groundsman.
The artificial nets could use some attention.
Better cages/netting would improve safety concerns.
Less training wicket usage would allow appropriate spin levels and improve the consistency of bounce for fast bowlers.
The square was dryer than usual due to the lack of rain, seeing the pitches take more spin against South Africa.

Match pitches overall are in favour of the bowlers which sees batsmen unable to hit through the line of the ball and score from length deliveries. This also sees bowlers struggle when they have a much smaller margin of error overseas.
All venues struggle with hosting the amount of training required. Training should be limited to two days prior at all venues wherever possible otherwise training on tired wickets does the players more harm than good.
Conditions do not replicate conditions faced anywhere else overseas, hindering the development of players. More ground staff are required to assist with covers at each venue.

The Irish clubs and groundsmen do their best with limited resources, and I mean resources in every sense of the word, including financial, manpower, equipment etc. They and the clubs were rightly miffed at their condemnation, and could well ask of Cricket Ireland and the players. “If you’re not happy with what we have, why not do better yourself?

For the last 15 years, Ireland have made little tangible progress on their own national cricket ground and stadium. Initially it was to be Malahide, and there was work done on the square and outfield to bring it up to international standard, but nothing on the infrastructure required for matches at that level.

After a decade, a decision was taken to change tack and set down roots at Abbotstown. Five years on and there are practice facilities in place, albeit artificial only at this stage, with remedial work carried out on the grass wickets area. The governing body are optimistic that they will be fit for use later this year, hopefully before the end of the international season.

What then of an actual cricket ground or stadium fit for international cricket? There has been silence on the subject recently, with the national headlines focusing on a new velodrome but nothing specific on the cricketing front. There is a grass fielding area, and space for a ground, but as yet, little progress.

That’s not to say Cricket Ireland hasn’t been working in the background, operating the channels.

“The development of permanent infrastructure has become our primary strategic priority, and we sincerely hope that the Government will be able to assist us in taking this urgent initiative forward,” said Warren Deutrom in an email to Kathy Fagan, John Kelly and Brendan Ingram last autumn.

There appears to have been positive feedback from the government in terms of assisting with the development of the pitch and outfield, but little with regard to any of the permanent facilities and infrastructure required for top level cricket. That was confirmed in another email to the relevant officials from Warren Deutrom.

“However, conversations with the Irish Government in relation to the development of permanent infrastructure for cricket have seen a number of undertakings made since 2007 but, in that time, little concrete progress has been made, and we have been forced into spending millions of euro on transforming ostensible greenfield sites into temporary stadia commensurate with our new status as an ICC Test nation and Full Member.

“I am formally requesting a meeting with the Minister and relevant officials to once again put the case forward for cricket in relation to its undoubted ability to deliver valuable local economic impact, to reach global audiences no other sport can reach, and to penetrate lucrative overseas markets that no other Irish cultural entity can deliver, especially South Asia.”

Cricket Ireland are of the opinion that the government gave a public written undertaking to develop a new stadium at the NSC at Abbotstown when Leo Varadkar mentioned it in a message in the match programme for the India matches back in 2018. On the back of that, CI were seeking, “to enter into good-faith negotiations to bring this project to fruition.” I’m not sure how much weight that message from Varadkar carries, but no doubt we will see how successful the Cricket Ireland lobbying has been over the coming months..or years….

While all eyes will be concentrated over the coming weeks on the T20 World Cup Qualifiers in Oman, the nights are getting longer with attention switching to the home season.

The domestic fixtures appear to be in limbo, with the unions awaiting confirmation of the interprovincial and international calendar before the various cup competitions and local fixtures can be slotted in to the big jigsaw.
Why the delay?

Well it all hinges on whether the biggest draw in world cricket confirms their attendance on these shores. As Cricket Ireland President Philip Black hinted at last month during the West Indies tour, India are in the frame to come for two T20I’s ahead of their tour of England.

If that gets the green light then it will be a huge financial boost for the Irish coffers, and much of the jam on the bread in terms of cricket for the year ahead is dependent on their arrival.

Ireland and Bangladesh are due to play in the World Cup Super League in May, but that be pushed back to 2023 – both sides would be willing but it’s still to be confirmed. New Zealand will be here in July, while Afghanistan are due in August.

And hopefully if things go to plan, Ireland will be off to Australia in October for the T20 World Cup if successful in Oman later this month.

There is good news too for Ireland Women, who may well be playing Australia and Pakistan as the pair are planning to tour Ireland as part of their Commonwealth Games preparations. Ed Joyce’s side are also part of the ICC Championship and we await to see how the fixtures in that will take shape over the next few years.
Potentially then a bumper summer of cricket in store.

Fingers crossed.