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Passing the Test: Ireland's 10-year quest to join cricket's elite set to end this week

The ICC will vote on Ireland’s ascension to full member and Test status on Thursday on what is set to be a hugely significant day in the sport’s history on this island.

IT’S ALWAYS DANGEROUS to tempt fate, particularly when it comes to matters of international sporting governance, but Ireland’s decade-long quest to join cricket’s elite is expected to come to the most fulfilling end this week.

Barry McCarthy celebrates the wicket of Eoin Morgan out for 76 It's set to be a hugely significant week for Irish cricket. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

At some stage on Thursday afternoon, news from inside the boardrooms of The Oval cricket ground in London will filter through on the International Cricket Council (ICC) vote which will determine whether Ireland are added to a group of 10 nations at the sport’s top table.

If approved by the governing body’s full council meeting, Ireland, along with Afghanistan, would be granted full membership and Test status of the ICC, an elevation from Associate member status which would be the culmination of the most arduous of journeys.

It would be fitting that exactly 10 years on from the victory over Pakistan which announced Ireland on the world stage and engendered the belief, resolve and sheer audaciousness to lobby for greater recognition and challenge the sport’s traditional hierarchy, the end goal is finally achieved.

For longer than should ever have been the case, Cricket Ireland have pushed their cause, conjuring the most remarkable and dazzling performances on the field, and under the guidance and leadership of Warren Deutrom have defied a shoe-string budget and limited resources to operate as a full member nation in everything but name.

The significance of Thursday, therefore, cannot be underestimated.

For so many associated with Irish cricket — players, past and present, staff, coaches, volunteers and fans — it will be a hugely proud and emotional day, one which at times never seemed likely to arrive.

The ICC’s newly-formed membership committee convened last week to discuss Ireland’s application for ascension and its recommendations will be heard by the governing body’s board and then full council in London on Thursday.

There isn’t expected to be any hiccups along the way and by 4pm, Ireland’s path to the pinnacle of the sport should have been paved and set in stone with Deutrom ‘optimistic’ that the application Cricket Ireland have spent years readying will meet all 21 criteria set out.

It has been a long and winding road, one Deutrom set out on in 2006 when he arrived to take the reins of an organisation so small he and the head coach, Adi Birrell, were the only full-time staff.

Deutrom has had a clear vision of making cricket mainstream in Ireland and he, as much as anyone else, has been the driving force behind a campaign which has called for the ICC to broaden its horizons and expand the game past the established nations.

Ireland celebrate beating Pakistan The famous win over Pakistan in 2007 started a remarkable chapter which is set to close on Thursday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Even as Ireland brought some of the game’s powerhouses to their knees — Pakistan in 2007, England in 2011 and West Indies in 2015 — the bid for Test status was ignored and the door shut. So often it seemed like a futile exercise.

But there have been significant changes in the boardroom and corridors of the ICC and with it has come a different perspective on the sport’s future, a more inclusive approach which has enabled Ireland, and indeed Afghanistan, to take this next step.

So what will this next step mean? What will it do for the sport on this island?

It will all become a lot clearer on Thursday once the ICC’s annual conference concludes but elevation to full membership will result in a significant increase in financial distribution while also giving Ireland the chance to play Test cricket, which is widely regarded as the pinnacle format of the game.

Reaching that promised land has always been the holy grail and on Thursday, that dream will be realised on a day which will go down as one of the most momentous in the context of Irish sport.

“Sometimes you get into fairly structured, business-like meeting mode where you’re switched on and thinking rationally rather than emotionally,” Deutrom tells The42 from London.

“Then you switch off and be a human being again and if we get across the line on Thursday it will be difficult not to have an immense sense of pride and I’m sure a degree of emotion at that moment.

“It could well be that a camera or microphone is pushed in front of my face and if that does happen I’ll somehow have to switch on again but I can guarantee you in the bar afterwards there will be emotion, a couple of man hugs and a couple of glasses in between.

Warren Deutrom Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I genuinely don’t want to make this about me and I don’t say as false modesty but genuinely what I do is I always take inspiration from the people I work it. The degree of self belief and strength from the players we took in 2007, 2011 and 2015 and the extraordinary achievements on the field.

“We have 30 members of staff in Cricket Ireland, 14 of which are in the office keeping the show on the road. There are a lot of tired people in that office who have put their heads down and they may not always get the recognition they deserve.

“Then there are the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who have done a fantastic job and the Irish cricket community who have played their role in all of this. Hopefully there will be a lot of people rightly proud on Thursday.”

Indeed, the consequences of the vote are far-reaching and extend further beyond a status or a seat at the top table of the sport; it is a decision which has the potential to shape the future of cricket in Ireland.

More money, more resources, more games, more commercial revenue, more media coverage, more visibility and a greater audience appeal.

It feels like the end of a long journey for Irish cricket, but in fact this week is merely the beginning of an even longer one.

– First published 17.10

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