For years Ireland has been holding the torch for the associates. Ireland has gradually been improving their skill levels in cricket, despite losing some of their best players to their neighbours England, who go to England in search of the holy grail, which is test cricket.
That is something Ireland can't offer their hungry cricketers. Some have claimed Ireland have only produced the odd shock result here and there, but that isn't true. Ireland have been able to hold their heads up everytime they've stepped on the field. It came evident to the cricketing world during the 2007 cricket World Cup when Ireland firstly secured a tie with Zimbabwe in their first game of the group, and then went on to beat Pakistan in their second game, which secured Ireland's passage to the super 8's.
Many cricketing experts said this was a bad thing, a team of amateurs could get to this stage, I don't think it's a bad thing that a group of men who worked 9am-5pm, then went to a field and trained, and then went to the ultimate stage of their chosen sport and not only competed, but beat some of the best teams in that sport, this wasn't a shock once off achievement by Ireland, they would go on and compete in far more games against the big boys then they would be rolled over.
The 2007 World Cup wasn't the real eye opener of what Ireland can do but it got them on their way.
The real eye opener was to come in the 2011 World Cup. This time people had expected more from Ireland, they had lost the element of surprise. Teams knew Ireland can play and were ready for them, but that didn't stop Ireland from causing a shock. Ireland were to play England in their second game, and most people would have expected Ireland to lose, when England posted 327/8, not only that but Ireland were 111/5 at one stage, but so much is the heart and fight of this team that they overcame this obstacle and won the game by 3 wickets.
Ireland didn't go past the group stages in the 2011 World Cup, but I think they gained the love of the cricketing world, and nothing showed that more when the ICC had virtually decided to make the 2015 World Cup a competition for only the test playing nations. On hearing this, fans from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, England, etc rose up and demanded a u-turn, and it was eventually decided that their would be now 14 teams to compete in the next World Cup.
Ireland isn't the biggest cricketing nation by a long way, but the cricket players who do play for Ireland, play with as much, if not more passion than anyone out there. They might not have the Rahul Dravid's of the game, or the Dale Steyn's, but any game against Ireland will not be easily won. They are arguably one of the finest fielding sides in world cricket, which can be seen during any game they play. They don't produce big performances for only the big stage, but in every game they compete in, whether it be the ICC Cup or the World Cup.
Ireland's next goal is the find the road to test cricket. A goal which will stop the exodus of Ireland's best cricketers to their neighbours England. You can't blame a man for wanting to further his career, and the disappointing thing for Cricket Ireland is they can't do much about players leaving, if their leaving for test cricket.
Ireland hopes to introduce a first class system in the coming years which will give Ireland one of the vital tools needed to gain test status. And to help show the seriousness of Ireland's plans, they have developed a 12,000 seater ground in Malahide, Dublin. Ireland has 10,000 cricketers in it's pool of available players, and they hope to double that in the coming years.
Ireland has also produced players with huge potential like young spinner George Dockrell, opening batsman Paul Stirling, energetic wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien, opening batsman William Porterfield, to name some of them.
Warren Deutrom the CEO of Cricket Ireland described the road to test cricket as a glass ceiling, it's a club with a lot of big boys and old school mentality, a lot of people set in their ways, but many feel Ireland have shown they can compete with the best, and will only improve if given a chance. Ireland needs more games against top level opposition, between the 2007-2011 World Cup's Ireland played between 11 ODI's against test playing nations. Then a team like India would play this many ODI's in half a season.
Cricket Australia has come over to play Ireland and Pakistan was in Ireland for two ODI's recently, this is all good for Ireland, but more is needed, if Ireland truly want to compete they need to receive backing from the powers in the ICC so they can tour the big nations.
Also things need to be changed when teams tour England, why can't India and Sri Lanka last summer bring their A sides to play Ireland, it would only benefit their young and upcoming cricketers, failing that, why didn't they attempt to send some of their squad over here for even one small T20 game.
Until things change in the ICC and the people who run it, Ireland will be slow to improve, but with the resources they have, they do remarkable things. Just before the World Cup, the ICC granted an extra paid place for the minnows, one of the other nations brought along an assistant manager, spending their resources on yet another manager ''blazer''. That wasn't what Ireland wanted, Ireland hired top baseball coach Will Lintern. A good example of his work was the four run-outs in a row against Holland.
They're the best associate side out there, and capable of beating most of the lower test nations, some would think the likes of West Indies and Bangladesh and New Zealand are scared to come over here, and play here.
Cricket Ireland chairman David Williams, who visited India and met with BCCI chairman Shashank Manohar, said he had received support from several of the ICC's Full Members willing to accommodate Ireland,
"One of our ambitions is to increase our ODI exposure against full members to between 10 to 15 per annum, and we received some support from Full Members to accommodate us," Williams said. "There is, without question, among all the Full Members chairmen I spoke to, considered to be very clear water between us and the rest of the Associates."
Ireland will improve and get better, and hopefully before it's too late for the current squad, they will get to show their potential at the test level, and before some of the more talented players are picked for England, they deserve a chance to take it to the next level.
''Ireland have proudly carried the associates' standard for two World Cups in succession. They're not asking for free lunches, just for a fair chance.'' Dileep Premachandran...
Adam Gilchrist on Twitter: "Usually I don't tweet for other teams but Very vell played Ireland. Bravo!!"
Matthew Hayden -
"Well, honestly when he said that I couldn't believe it,"
"it didn't sink in" that O'Brien had not only broken the record but also beaten England — which had recently defeated the Aussies in the Ashes.
"I explained that I was delighted for Kevin and that I wish I could get a note out to him reflecting my thoughts to that effect and ... would do so at the first convenient opportunity," Hayden said. "This is just that opportunity."
"I have one brother on the team, but 13 more wearing green here in India," said Niall O'Brien.
"We'd die for each other," said John Mooney. "These are my blood brothers."