Cricket fans will descend on Dublin to watch international cricketers square up to each other this summer
"A five-day Test match irons out uncertainty but the shorter matches are open to luck, fluke and explosive play. If there’s giant-slaying to be done, that’s where it’ll happen." Alan Sweetman, a keen cricketer and columnist with The Racing Post is thinking about what makes a great cricket match – for players and fans.
Most particularly he’s thinking about the World Cup victories Ireland enjoyed over Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011. Will his favourite team have the same success when they meet the latter at the RSA Challenge this year?
In celebration of The Gathering, this will be the biggest cricket match EVER to be held on Irish shores in Malahide Cricket Ground, just outside Dublin city centre.
While Ireland may still have a way to go to become a Test nation, since those magnificent wins the plaudits have rolled in. "Ireland is taken very seriously around the world now," says Brian Scovell of The Daily Mail, who has been writing about cricket for 40 years. "They’ve got things moving very fast."
This apparently speedy success is in fact built on a strong if low-profile tradition in both the men’s and the women’s game. The first recorded match took place in 1792 in Phoenix Park, between "the Gentlemen of Dublin and the military of Ireland", and the sport quickly took hold.
Big sport in Ireland
"Cricket was the biggest sport in Ireland in the 19th century," says Ger Siggins cricket writer for the Sunday Tribune. Although largely supplanted by the establishment of the GAA in 1884, cricket remained close to many hearts. Samuel Beckett is the only Nobel Prize winner to appear in the world-famous Wisden’s Cricketer’s Almanack, “and James Joyce was a cricket nut,” according to Siggins.
Even with Ireland’s love of GAA, cricket remained popular in Dublin, north County Dublin and Belfast, but it’s in the last 15 years that the game has been regalvanised – and the fanbase has grown accordingly.
More investment, the arrival of foreigners from cricketing nations (either as professional coaches or simply enthusiastic amateurs) and the international success of players like Ed Joyce, Kevin and Niall O’Brien from Dublin and Paul Stirling and William Porterfield from Belfast, are inspiring boys and girls coming up through schools and clubs.
An island of sports fans
"It’s incredible when you think that this small island can produce a rugby team in the top eight in the world, a football team in the top 20, as well as a strong GAA tradition and still field 11 men good enough to give Pakistan and England a fright," says Siggins. "If everyone in Ireland played through the summer I bet we’d have enough talent to beat Australia!"
As well as the match to beat all matches between Ireland and England, this year's Gathering also includes a series of one-day matches to be played between Irish and international teams. Adamstown Cricket Club in Dublin is hosting and tickets are free, a big draw for the many fans who anticipate some world-class play.
The players in that first cricket match back in 1792 included the Duke of Wellington, a British future prime minister and the two men after whom Hobart and Brisbane would be named. Perhaps the cricket played at Adamstown will turn out to be just as historic. Why not drop over and see for yourself?