This Article is From Mar 17, 2015

Ireland's Cricket Team is Pretty Good. Too Bad We Don't Care

Marc-Ivan O'Gorman is an Irish writer and film director  who divides his time between Dublin, Delhi and Los Angeles.

"Today is Saint Patrick's Day, the national day of Ireland. Monuments across the globe like the Sacre Coeur in Paris, the Empire State building in New York, and the Colosseum in Rome will glow green in honour of the Emerald Isle. In India, who cares? If it comes on the radar at all, it will surely strike one as being faintly ridiculous. That's how we feel about cricket.

Sure, when we beat the West Indies the other day, it appeared, not with great prominence, on the sports section of our papers. Rather, column inches were largely devoted to reporting the multiple Irish wins at the Cheltenham Races, the likelihood of retaining their 6 Nations Rugby Championship title, and Padraig Harrington hoisting another PGA trophy in Florida. When we subsequently lost to another side (Pakistan) with the audacity to wear Green, few in Ireland noticed.

You see, we mostly play Gaelic games: vigorous indigenous sports like Hurling, (similar to hockey but the ball is struck into the air) or Gaelic Football, (an apparent cross between soccer and basketball). We've produced one of the greatest soccer players in history, Georgie Best, some of the greatest rugby players, we have the world's greatest golfer, and so on. Despite having a population the size of South Delhi, we are known, to use a boxing term, to punch above our weight (FYI: four Boxing medals in the last Olympics).

This passion for sports even filters all the way down to the minority interest variety like potholing, croquet or cricket. Apparently, cricket was once popular in Ireland, but that was a long time ago. Our Nobel laureates differed on the game's innate appeal. G.B. Shaw famously remarked that "Cricket is a game played by 22 flannelled fools being watched by 22,000 flannelled fools.", while avid sportsman and French resistance fighter, Samuel Beckett, to quote Wisden, "had two first-class games for Dublin University against Northamptonshire in 1925 and 1926, scoring 35 runs in his four innings..."

The problem for Irish people is the Imperial overtones of cricket; it has never fully rid itself of the tag of the "garrison game". The unrelenting Englishness of it is all too much to take; the wearing of the whites reminds us of the flag of St. George, the chartered accountancy of the score-keeping smacks of colonial bureaucracy, and the necessity to use absurd terms like googlies, yorkers, zooters, or silly mid-offs can only be explained as some kind Orwellian nu-speak to remove the poetry from our Celtic souls.

It wasn't merely the requirement to play an English game (one would be hard pressed to find a game they didn't invent), it was the requirement to behave like the English to play it. Lots of strategising, tactical adjustments, and well, standing about. Sometimes for days on end. Should there not be a degree of urgency in a sport? This is why I have difficulty determining if the quote about "long periods of boredom punctuated with moments of extreme terror" refers to modern warfare or test cricket. This may be the nub of the problem. In Ireland, we admire vigour, passion, full-blooded commitment, getting stuck-in, "giving it a lash", "putting them under pressure". Granted, this charging over the hill giving it the full 'Braveheart" while our opponents wait dead-eyed, coolly loading their cannons may have lead to 800 years of oppression. Still and all, this lack of physical contact in the sport just seems a little wishy-washy.

Obviously, the reality of some gigantic professional cricketer firing a scarlet projectile at your head at 100 miles an hour is very different to the perception of this fey gentility. The difficulty for the Irish public is to draw a distinction between the image of Land-owning Gentry in the 'Big House', the ruling class of Anglo-Irish ascendency, the Raj in the Rain, as it were, and that of cricket's much vaunted tradition epitomized in sepia-toned pictures of curly-tashed toffs, gamboling on the cricket-creases of yesteryear. Essentially, it's Downton Abbey, where you may have noticed, the Irish are the drivers and the English are the drivees.

We are, as a result, always taken aback by Indians' enthusiasm for the sport. You have kicked the British out, right? You no longer have to pretend to like this Victorian nonsense. You have this extraordinarily rich culture in music, art, literature, science, architecture, food and so on and you actually choose to play cricket? Of course, most Irish people will not have been exposed to the joys of Kabaddi.

Having said all that, and despite the lack of resources available domestically and support internationally, Ireland have a cracking cricket team. In successive World Cups we've beaten Pakistan, England and the West Indies. We've got the highest ever successful run chase (against England, 2011), that there have only been five 300+ run chases in the competition and we've got three of them and, of course, the fastest century (Kevin O'Brien against, ahem, England). And all of this from an "Associate Member". It seems, to cite Orwell once more, that within the sport, some nations are more equal than others, though surely that's not cricket?  

The ultimate irony in all of this is that the captain of the English national team is an Irish man, a born and bred Dubliner, by the name of Eoin (pronounced "owe-in", Irish for John) Morgan. Whether, as some joked, Eoin's form had dipped so low he could no longer hold his place on the Irish team and had to settle for playing for our near neighbour, or perhaps, looking at how ignominious his adopted team's departure from the competition has been - he is in fact a fifth columnist, bringing English Cricket down from within, either way.  Happy St. Patrick's Day.

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