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By Sunil Gavaskar
Whoever wins the world cup over the next fortnight the one team that has won the hearts of cricket lovers of the subcontinent is Ireland. They go back with their heads held high and having served notice that they are ready for higher honours.
Whether they get their desire of being a Test country remains to be seen but they certainly haven’t harmed their chances by their performances in this year’s world cup. Even in the 2007 edition they were impressive and now they have done even better in this world cup chasing successfully over 300 runs twice a feat not easily achieved in international cricket.
Many of their players play in county cricket so they get a fair amount of matches to play, which is not what other Associates get but they also have the problem of some of their better players getting impatient about wanting to play Test cricket and who then opt to play for England as we have seen already. This is something that the ICC needs to look at very carefully because if the aim is to help Associates get better, then they mustn’t be allowed to lose quality players to England.
The qualification rules for Test countries is different than for Associate countries so if a player has played in the ‘A’ team of a Test country and then wants to play for another country then he has to wait a four year period and only then can he qualify for the other country. That is a reasonable period of waiting but it’s not the same for Irish or Scottish players who wish to play for England. They can do so virtually in the same season and that is tempting for those from these Associates who wish to try their skills at the highest level. It is here that the ICC has to take a stand and decide whether a player who has a different passport and has sung another country’s anthem can straightaway play for another neighbouring country.
It's not just the Irish and Scots who have the advantage of playing for England but also some of the other Test nations whose players play for Associate countries by spending just 100 days there. Once they do that, then they should not be allowed to play for a Test country straightaway and should spend 4 years qualifying as others have to do. A couple of years back we had the sight of a player who was quite clearly domiciled in a Test country and who was playing in that country’s domestic competition who played for an Associate country by qualifying either on his birth being in the Associate country and having done that in an ICC tournament he played for the Test country where he has settled down within a matter of months. How he could do that in the same year remains a mystery but it happened and it quite clearly showed that playing for the Associate was just an opportunistic deal and not where he actually wanted to help the Associate countries talent to develop.
England of course has the best of both worlds. Because it is part of the United Kingdom, the Scots, Welsh and Irish can play for England without qualifying at all. They could well have passports of those countries, stand at attention to their national anthems yet play for England in a jiffy if selected. If that is the case then realistically there should not be these countries playing as Associates isn’t it? What if tomorrow the subcontinent decides that any of its players can automatically play for other SAARC countries? That would not be allowed isn’t it? I mean can a Nepal, Myanmar or Afghan player play for another Test country in the subcontinent without serving the 4 year period of qualification?
Mind you it is not just the Irish, Scot or Welsh players who have taken advantage of the lax qualifying rules but also some who have taken the ‘kolpak’ escape route to qualify as a non-overseas player while playing in the English county game. So all that they have to do is to find an ancestor who was born in England and thus qualify to play for England even if they have spent all their formative years in another country and have stood to attention to that country’s national anthem. The South Africans are prime examples of this and today there are players in England who have grown up as cricketers in South Africa but are now donning the English colours.
The Irish team will have evoked the interest of many in England after their performances in this world cup and hopefully it won’t mean that the Associate country will lose out on some of their best players. It would be a real setback to the little country with players of big hearts to see all their effort of developing these players go down the tube as they are tempted away and that too to a country that they are really not that fond of.