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As one remarkable journey for Irish cricket ends, this is the beginning of an even greater one

Ireland’s elevation to cricket’s top table is a tale of commitment, perseverance and a battle against the odds. Today will go down as a truly historic one in the context of Irish sport, writes Ryan Bailey.

IT WAS A long time coming, too long, but after knocking on the door, relentlessly lobbying for promotion on the back of standout performances on the world stage, Ireland’s Test dream became a reality on Thursday.

Cricket - 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup - England v Ireland - M Chinnaswamy Stadium A truly historic day for Irish cricket and sport. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Along with Afghanistan, Ireland were unanimously voted into cricket’s most exclusive club by the International Cricket Council, joining the 10 existing members at the top table of the sport and bringing an end to a decade-long quest to reach this promised land.

Shortly before 3.30pm yesterday afternoon, 22 June 2017, the ICC’s full council rubber stamped Ireland’s ascension to full membership status and in the process granted the licence and opportunity for this country to realise its full cricketing potential.

It was a landmark day, on which the tireless work and unwavering commitment of so many people, not least Cricket Ireland’s instrumental CEO Warren Deutrom, was eventually rewarded. A day for the ages, if ever there was one.

Yet for so long, it looked like it may never arrive. Hope was fading that Ireland would ever get the recognition those dazzling days in Jamaica, Bangalore and Nelson deserved as the ICC continually pulled up the ladder on those trying to climb it.

Ireland had put themselves on the cricketing map, stood up on the biggest stage, puffed their chest out and flexed their muscles, but with the highs came disheartening setbacks and the apprehension that it would never happen. The case was compelling, but nobody was listening.

So for that reason, and indeed so many more, this will have been the sweetest of days for Deutrom, his staff and all associated with Irish cricket. Fans, volunteers and the players, those who are still playing, those who have moved on and those who are no longer with us. Those who had the ambition and persistence to push for change, challenge the traditional structures and strive to become one of the best.

It is also fitting that this day comes 10 years on from the victory, against Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup, which initiated this whole process and engendered the belief within the squad and organisation that breaking the glass ceiling and shedding the Associate nation tag was possible.

“An amazing day for Irish cricket,” Deutrom said shortly after emerging from the ICC’s full council meeting in London.

Peter Chase, Kevin O'Brien, Ed Joyce, John Anderson, Andrew Balbirnie and George Dockrell Players -- past and present -- have taken to social media to underline what today's announcement means to them. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

An amazing day for Irish sport, and a lesson in commitment, perseverance and how success can be achieved against all odds.

It is not just an endorsement of all the on-field achievements which have provided this 10-year campaign with such weight but a seal of approval and further recognition for everything that has gone on behind the scenes; the capacity of Cricket Ireland to stage major international fixtures, such as that memorable day in 2013 when 10,000 crammed into Malahide, as well as the formation of domestic structures, including a national academy and first-class structure.

When the door eventually opened, Cricket Ireland were ready to storm through it but even still it was all a bit surreal when the ICC confirmed Ireland’s ascension earlier this afternoon. A hugely proud moment, emotional too, but there was a tangible sense of relief. We have arrived, and not a minute too soon.

The reaction from players and fans told its own story but the enormity of the news and achievement was truly reflected as it gained traction from further afield, most notably from recently-appointed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

“I am delighted that Ireland will take its place among the Test playing nations,” he said.

“It’s great news for the game here and a fitting result for many years of hard work and campaigning by Cricket Ireland.

“Ireland has enjoyed some notable successes at International level in the shorter versions of the game. We can now look forward to some great days ahead as Ireland takes on the top Test cricket playing nations in the world.”

The prospect of welcoming the game’s heavyweights to Dublin is an exciting one and would be the realisation of a dream for so many, but it’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future.

History shows that making the transition into the five-day arena is a steep learning curve and for that reason, Ireland are likely to enter the format with games against Afghanistan and Zimbabwe initially whilst also facing the higher-ranked nations in one-off fixtures.

With the conclusion of the Associate Intercontinental Cup competition not until November of this year and Ireland yet to be added to the Future Tours Programme, it’s increasingly possible that the first Test match will be against Afghanistan at some stage in 2018.

“If we’re thrusted into a three-game series with Australia or South Africa and getting thumped. That’s not going to do anyone any good,” Deutrom tells The42. “We hope to play Afghanistan and Zimbabwe on a more structured basis and then play the higher-ranked teams on an unstructured basis, i.e there’s no guarantee of games every year.

Ireland celebrate a catch Ireland could play their first Test match in 2018. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I think the other full members would be willing to make a commitment over this next six-year cycle to play us at least once home or away and there’s that natural opportunity created from teams touring England.”

Deutrom adds that it’s important not to rush too hastily into arranging fixtures and instead stresses the need to pick the right opponent, right location and right time for a maiden Test match.

While there is a natural excitement and urge to play as soon as possible, the idea of Ireland playing Zimbabwe in Harare in the middle of our winter would be something of an underwhelming debut. There needs to be a real sense of occasion.

“We might have thoughts in our head about when we want to play but we haven’t sat down and had a deep conversation about it,” he explains.

“We don’t want to wait too long for the first Test but we don’t want to rush into it and have a potentially inappropriate occasion to play in front of no crowd with not much interest and against the wrong opposition in the wrong location. In other words, we want it to be a big event.”

Indeed, the opportunity to play Test cricket, the format seen as the pinnacle of the sport, is naturally going to create the headlines and grab attention — but more importantly is the increase in funding Cricket Ireland will receive on the back of their elevation.

It’s not yet known what Ireland will receive as part of the ICC’s seven-year broadcast deal worth €2.4 billion, but there are suggestions they could be in line to secure something in the region of €7 million on an annual basis. Either way, they now have access to full member levels of revenue shares.

Then there is the potential for bigger commercial deals, better broadcast agreements and more media coverage. Today’s announcement has the potential not only to bring Irish cricket to the next level but completely reshape the sport’s future on these shores.

“Full membership is about the recognition within the boardrooms of the sport and our status and standing within the game,” Deutrom continued. “But the bigger story is Test cricket as it has a resonance with the Irish sporting public.

The Irish team celebrate beating Pakistan in Sabina Park The victory over Pakistan in 2007 was the start of this journey. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“For us it’s also about status and having Test status will lend itself to having a degree of legitimacy and value to future broadcast and commercial rights that may not otherwise exist if we didn’t have it. It’s about status, protecting our playing resources and driving commercial revenue.

“If we have more games, we have more visibility, we’ll be more culturally relevant, we’re going to be on television more, we’re going to be talked about more, we’re going to be in the media more and simply have more opportunities to be more visible. We have more resources to build the sport.”

The building blocks have been in place for some time, but Cricket Ireland now have the backing to develop further, bring the game to new audiences and continue on this extraordinary journey.

Yesterday marked the end of one chapter in this Irish cricket story but also the start of another one which promises to be bigger and better than what has gone before.

The dream, and that vision set out by Deutrom 10 years ago, has come true.

Ireland are a Test-playing nation.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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