When a person's thoughts turn to cricket, a certain small island caught between the Atlantic Ocean and Celtic Sea would rarely enter such a stream of consciousness. In short, the nation of Ireland and cricket are usually fairly far removed from each other and more's the pity I say. I am of the very firm belief that this sad current state of being needs a little seeing to.
Having donned the whites, slapped on the pads and rolled the arm over in this part of the world for the last few years after hailing from cricket adoring Perth, Australia, I have come to the conclusion there is indeed a definite and sustainable forum for cricket here in Ireland. The seed has been planted, though unfortunately it is yet to take a truly firm root and there is huge potential for expansion of the game, if not simply for the fact that
there may be no other way for it to feasibly go without actually disappearing. Not quite perhaps, but it only really survives due to the
commitment of a certain Irish sector. A strong commitment I might say and
reasonably true to it's cause but still, just a sector and fairly small and
concentrated at that.
That being said, we do play the same game here in the same form as any other cricket playing nation. The
same rules are applied (well! mostly, with the odd exception) as in say Calcutta, New Hampshire, Harare or Perth. However, like these places, Irish cricket has it's own slant, it's
own unique personality and unlike any other. So, what I am going to do is, provide a brief insight into the Irish game and to do this I've compiled a short list of the pros and cons of cricketing life here on the Emerald Isle. Letís begin with the pros, for no other reason other than there is already far too much in the way of criticism and negativity in the world of cricket as it is.
If it's the brighter side of cricket you're after, on or off the playing field, it's what you'll get in Ireland, not meteorogically mind you, but in spirit. Yes! the Irish know exactly what a good time is and have it down to a precise art form, cricket grounds inclusive. You will find none of the famous M.C.C stuffiness here, you'll need to purchase a ferry ticket across the water to experience that if itís what youíre looking for. One positive aspect of not being taken seriously as an ex-pat Aussie competitor I find, is that it isn't always necessary to be totally serious as far as the Irish domestic scene goes. Antics ranging from Cow pitch invasions, to two wicket -keepers working in tandem and batsmen in rain jackets all prevail and prosper freely here in Ireland.
Socially, Irish cricket in my view leads the world. They are the forerunners of enjoyment, mirth and the spirit of fun and gamesmanship. Though, to my surprise, I found that on the field a very minimum of interaction with the opposing team (or sledging if you like) actually takes place. With the Irish being so famous for their blarney and gift of the gab, I thought that I'd be in for a few pearlers in the interactive dialogue department, something that is a big part of the Australian game. However, talk is relatively minimal on the field generally in Ireland. If not for the the large international contingent playing here, the boisterous South Africans, the argumentative Indians (needless to mention the Australians!) the games would sometimes be played in surprising peace, almost serenity.
Celebrations though by contrast, are exceedingly important and indulgent in Irish cricket. Whether it be a wicket, a boundary or six, anything vaguely beneficial to one's team really, you can be sure there will be profound cheers and congratulations all round. What the game here lacks in chat it more than makes up for in eagerness to congratulate and celebrate. Having experienced this, I've reached a conclusion which is, former Aussie test player Merv Hughes, must be an Irishman or at the very least, he must have played here at some distant time or in some unseen form. I say this because, often I have bore witness to flashes of eccentric enthusiasm or seen an otherwise quiet man go wild with excuberation after a fortunate turn in a match. The very likes of which Merv Hughes came to perfect throughout his career with the Aussie team. Mervs antics are alive and well in Ireland and seen as an integral part of the game.
The characters I have encountered during my playing days here are as diverse, unexpected and as unpredictable as the notorious Irish (summer!)weather. You never quite know what you're going to get, but you can rely upon it being interesting - not always beneficial, but definitely interesting. Personalities ranging from your affluent toff from Dublin South, seen as a very decent and proper chappy, though sometimes
bordering on elitist, the eternal college boy, a jolly good, dashing, marvellous.. all the superlatives but usually sadly alack on the field of play, right through to the other side, where you have your player straight from the hills of Ballylickey, barely comprehendable, cross between a sixties child of free love and a "culchee" (Irish for country hick) who usually travels to the game in an unroadworthy van (with rest of team in back). This sort of
character is known to play in absolutely any type of conditions, on any playing surface and usually quite well would you believe. Its also not uncommon for the latter to still have remnants of afternoon tea in his beard come stumps. But God love em, diversity and human character is a great thing and a thing there is certainly no shortage of in the Irish
Basically, I could well rant on relaying stories attached to these
characters all day and all would have the same positive outcome on the way cricket is played in Ireland. Yet for all the positives and wild tales to tell there are always a few drawbacks. There is of course a downside to playing cricket here. We could mention the obvious, the weather - very questionable to say the least and we could mention the huge gap
between the very average and the rare very good player, the lack of
appropriate facilities (especially in the South) due to the fact, in Ireland most clubs are affiliated with another sport, usually hockey, with cricket viewed as the secondary game. The lack of a popular following, funding, media coverage, decent opposition for the better teams... The list is long.
Rather than seeing them as drawbacks the attitude among those playing here is such that they are viewed as
mere minor obstacles.. stumbling blocks perhaps. These drawbacks are seen by the locals as nothing more than minor inconveniences and my view is the pros of playing cricket in Ireland far outweigh the cons in every aspect of the game. It is refreshing to be a participating witness to a developing cricket nation, going at it as only the Irish could and maintaining the unique aspects of the Irish game. I believe "unique" is a very apt way
to express cricketing life here on the Emerald Isle. It's not always pretty, not always
a smooth progression, not always text book, (not always dry!) but always
interesting... Very! Still, as they say - Wouldn't swap it for quids! especially, when there is a quantity of guiness awaiting the thirsty players at the draw of the stumps.
© Rick Barlow