Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cricket: Where Taking the Shilling Takes the Biscuit

Consider for a moment a strange parallel universe, where the Leinster Football Final features mighty Dublin against plucky underdogs Wicklow. Wicklow has never been a stronghold of football, but through the dedication of a small minority, they’ve put together a team that has brought the Garden County to the great stage where, as Sir Walter Scott put it, one crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.

Consider furthermore how exactly Wicklow would feel if Dublin’s best player on this Leinster Final Day in front of a packed Croke Park were himself from Wicklow – Aughrim, say – with no connection to Dublin at all, at all.

This Wicklow man had gone to Dublin to hurl some years ago and the good and generous people of Wicklow GAA said: well, fair enough so. It’s an uphill battle to keep football going here, but we haven’t a snowballs of being competitive in hurling. You’re a great footballer but if hurling is your passion you have to follow its flame. So long then son, and good luck to you.

But the prodigy turns out to be no good at hurling. He knows how to hold the thing at the thin bit instead of the thick bit but his wristwork isn’t worth tuppence. However, although a limited hurler, he’s still pretty dang good at football.

Having found out that he’d never make it as a Dublin hurler he is now a very successful Dublin footballer, even though if he was going to play football he could have done that by returning to Wicklow. But he hasn’t returned to Wicklow. Here he is instead, with the three castles of Dublin burning proudly on his breast.

This is precisely the situation facing Ireland at the Cricket World Cup, which starts this weekend. Eoin Morgan, the best Irish player of his generation, is not only playing for England, but he is captaining them.

Morgan is not the first non-Englishman to play for England. England have been very open-minded in this regard, historically. But if you’re trying to build a sport, as Cricket Ireland claim they are, they need their best players playing for Ireland to inspire the youth. And that’s where they have a big problem with Morgan.

Morgan transferred for England because he wanted to play Test cricket. Ireland play one-day cricket, but they do not play Test matches. Hurling is less like football than Test cricket is like the one-day game, but the comparison isn’t that far-fetched either.

In the early years of the one-day game, in the late 1960s, the international teams were the same in both forms of the game. Now, they’ve become more specialised and, while there are still crossover players, they are now also one-day specialists and test specialists and it’s impossible to image one playing the other, anymore than you could send Tommy Walsh playing football or hand a hurl to the Gooch. Fish out of water.

Eoin Morgan is a one-day specialist. So special, in fact, he’s captaining the English team. He will not play Test cricket. England have capped him at Test level, and he wasn’t good enough. He hasn’t got it for Test cricket. But he is plenty good enough for one-dayers, and this is the rub.

If Morgan is good enough to captain England, imagine the difference a player of his ability could make to Ireland? Cricket is one of those games where one man really can make a difference. If Eoin Morgan were still playing for Ireland, Ireland wouldn’t necessarily win the World Cup, but they could certainly put Irish cricket on the map and advance the country’s claim for full Test status.

But he’s not. He’s captaining England instead, and Irish cricket seem entirely ok about that. It’s not done to point this fairly obvious fact out. If Morgan is ever mentioned, it’s in the same obsequious terms last heard on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Free State (without Blessed Mary McAleese’s W-0-W for the Gaeilge, of course).

Expect plenty of yak in the media about brave Ireland flying the flag and all of us rallying around the flag and over-by-over live tweeting of Ireland v the United Arab Emirates live from the storied Brisbane Gabba.

Do not expect any journalism from the fans-with-typewriters. Do not expect inquiries as to why Cricket Ireland thinks it deserves Test status when it can’t hang onto its players. Do not expect any thought-pieces wondering how Eoin Morgan feels about those three lions on his shirt and listening to God Save the Queen booming out over the PA.

In an era where the south sea islands are combed for New Zealand rugby internationals and New Zealand itself is combed for Scottish rugby internationals, don’t expect anyone writing about Ireland at the Cricket World Cup to ask Captain McMorris’s famous question of his fellows in Shakespeare’s Henry V: “What is my nation?”

Just be thankful that the chance of a minnow breaking through in the Cricket World Cup is even lower than the chance of one breaking through in the Rugby World Cup, and that it’ll all be over soon.