After last night, the world of cricket has changed.
I have been a cricket fan since World Series Cricket in the late 1970s and, just like Kerry Packer revolutionised cricket, last night’s cracker between Ireland and the United Arab Emirates will be one be that will be remembered for years to come.
Try as they might want to forget, cricket authorities will forever be reminded of the drama, the passion and the competitiveness that ‘two pesky minnows’ – as Ed Joyce cheekily tweeted – provided. The night where the game of cricket was introduced to a whole new legion of fans around the world.
Don’t worry about the announcement of the ten team World Cup for 2019. Don’t worry about Dave Richardson saying the dates and venues are set. Rules are made to be broken. Especially when there is a compelling case to change them. TV ratings is one part of the equation and I am confident that last night’s final over thriller made for compelling viewing. The other part is the introduction of cricket to new audiences of fans across the globe. Advertisers should be queuing up to try and get a share of the Irish & UAE markets. I understand that the hashtags #IREvUAE and #BackingGreen were trending on Twitter. The fact that the ICC’s headquarters is domiciled in Dubai, in the heart of the UAE should not be lost to anyone either. Humble pie will be well and truly served in due course.
We have always known about the case of Irish cricket for greater recognition but I must admit that I have been very impressed with the performance of the other Associate nations in the Cup to date. Fair played to UAE. Aside from last night’s performance, they also put it up to the Zimbabweans last week in Nelson (where they scored 286) and could almost be considered unlucky not to have the number two in their wins column. Let me tell you that UAE, Afghanistan and Scotland are no walk in the park. Just as Irish cricket has been rising over the last decade, there is no doubt that they are bringing up the other associates with them. The ICC Intercontinental Cup matches from now on will be watched with greater interest by cricket fans across the globe.
Earlier this week we saw Chris Gayle blast 215, the highest score in World Cup history. That knock was the recurring nightmare for me – just like Coach Simmons no doubt – in the build up to our match in Nelson. Guys like him can take a match away from you in a blink. But, we have our own Chris Gayle in Kevin O’Brien. His blistering 50 off just 24 balls will be one that we will all remember in years to come and provided no better introduction to cricket newcomers. Yes it was against UAE but Adam Gilchrist rates his very best Test century as being the one he got against lowly Bangladesh of all countries. With his lusty late-order hitting, wicket taking and post-wicket celebrations, he is a fan favourite. Ireland’s very own Freddie Flintoff.
We all know about the luck of the Irish … expect when it comes to us and the lottery! When will my numbers ever come up? But how about Ed Joyce’s luck? Thanks to his ‘non-dismissal’, we now have a new cricketing term – the ‘leprechaun’ when the bails jumps up and return to their groove. If you watch the slow-mo replay of Ed’s ‘non-dismissal’ you will see Lil Larry flash across and put the bails back down. The flashing stumps are great for fans at the ground and I am sure that pic of the flashing stumps will be one of the memorable images of the tournament.
Gary Wilson won the Man of the Match honours with a great knock. I had read earlier in the week that he had averaged 93 against UAE going into the match so I was confident that he would guide us home when things struggled a bit. My best player however – for the second game running – was a tweaker. Last week I thought Andy McBrine’s spell did a great job in restricting the Windies with his 0/26 but Paul Stirling was unlucky to miss out on back-to-back MoM awards with his 2/27 off his ten overs. His two wickets put the brakes on UAE after they started so well.
Whilst Ireland now possess four of the top ten chases in World Cup history, including two in the last week, I am concerned about our bowling at the death. Too many runs have been leaked in the last 15 overs in both our matches to date. There will need to be a marked improvement as the tournament wears on. More yorkers please guys!
No doubt that the Blarney Army helped lift the team to victory last night. The official crowd may only have been 5,249. But we made enough sound for 50,000. It actually reminded me of the 2007 tie against Zimbabwe where only 2,000 showed up to Sabina Park. Our fans are rivalling the Indians which is no mean feat. It is a shame that our match against the Indians is in Hamilton with a capacity of just 8,000.
It is a pity that the stands were empty. The crowd had about 250 local schoolkids from a few schools around Brisbane. Gee they loved the Irish team. Lil Larry and myself spent about 40 minutes with them during the UAE innings and had a ‘selfie’ (or is it an ‘Ussie’) with nearly all of them. Larry was even asked for a heap of autographs! After seeing the smiles on their faces, I can tell that last night’s match will result in these kids becoming lifelong cricket fans. I would encourage all cricket administrators around the world to fill empty seats with schoolkids. It was a shame that ticketholders from the washed out Australia v Bangladesh weren’t given free entry to last night’s match either following from the washout caused by Cyclone Marcia. Last night’s match deserved a packed stadium.
If a ticket to the Blarney Army section is the hottest ticket in town , then surely the hottest item in town is Irish 2015 World Cup cricket gear. In the first two games, the merchandise tent sold out within an hour. With the Blarney Army building momentum and a likely quarter-final berth, make sure you snap your up Irish hats and caps ASAP.
The colour of the Blarney Army looked tremendous and no finer than Shay Livingstone’s Shamrock suit. Poor old Shay looked fantastic but was worse for wear by the 15th over as it felt the brunt of the Brisbane humidity. For a moment there, I thought I was at a wet t-shirt comp! Hope you replenished your fluids afterwards Shay!
Talking about outfits, my outfit has definitely been the best 20 Euros that I have ever spent. I first bought a ‘Larry’ in Dublin in 2006 when I was playing with the Australian Masters AFL side in International Rules. Been part of the wardrobe ever since … including my honeymoon and running marathons. I have a few on rotation this World Cup with one of them being retired at the end of the tournament into the Randwick-Petersham museum at Coogee Oval. The next best purchase that I have made has been the World Cup replica trophy that I purchased in Nelson last week. Everyone wants to touch it (the trophy not Larry!) and have a pic with it.
The best part about Ireland playing and being successful in the World Cup is that so many are being introduced to cricket. And haven’t they taken to it like a duck to water. As one fan Roisin from Galway quipped “A match played over seven hours where fans get to sing and drink and we win? What is not to like about that?” I loved the signs around the crowd. Especially ‘Ground Hurling’ and other unique references that nobody else has a clue what we are on about. Irish fans are definitely imparting their influence to the greater public. A great way to take the mickey. Ireland is Australia’s and New Zealand’s 2ndfavourite team. Will be a pity if we have to play one of them in a likely quarter final match-up. As my old man would oft tell me “There are three types of people: The Irish … those that wished they were … and those with no ambition at all!”
I must admit that I had a slight chuckle to myself with the high percentage of the Blarney Army crowd who had limited knowledge of the intricate laws of cricket – probably best highlighted when ‘Umpire’s Call’ appears during player reviews of decisions when they had no idea what was going on – but they made up for it with voice and enthusiasm. Keep up the great work guys. Feel free to come up and ask a question if you are unsure what is happening. I admit that I get baffled with some of the decisions from time to time.
One of the highlights for me last night was when the players ran all the way across the ground, jumped the advertising hoardings and embraced the Blarney Army to thank them for their support. How good was that? I can’t think of any other professional side – other than the traditional grand final lap of honour – that would do that with their fans. Legends!
Lil Larry had an absolute ball. It was his introduction to World Cup cricket as I had travelled alone to the Windies match but what an impressive debut. I thought the long day – which started with a 4am call from our home in Melbourne – would be too much for his two and a half year old body. But he got his second and third winds and celebrated til the very end. It was lovely seeing him buzzing after the game and telling us about all the fun things he did throughout the day. A special thank you to all in the Blarney Army who were so lovely to us.
So where to from here? Having secured two wins from the first two matches, I believe that we really only need to win one more match in our remaining four Pool B games. The Blarney Army has been one of the World Cup stories and will only get bigger from here. Our next match is against South Africa at Manuka Oval in Canberra on Tuesday (3 March) and I expect a lot of ex-pats in both Canberra and Sydney to come along to the game. The South Africans – one of the pre-tournament favourites – have been sketchy in their opening matches. So I am half expecting a win on Tuesday. It will be up there with Pakistan in Jamaica 2007 if we can pull it off. The big match for me though is on Saturday week (March 7) at the scenic Bellerive Oval in Hobart against Zimbabwe. It will be a tough tussle and I am predicting a last ball thriller – just like their 2007 encounter. Just like then, it will be the Irish celebrating after that final ball.
I am #BackingGreen.