Fair play to mi­nor­ity who refuse to be stumped

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - Malachy Clerkin

Whether you’re into the sport or not, it burst the heart to watch the Irish cricket fra­ter­nity as they took their place among the na­tions of the Earth over the week­end. You weren’t re­quired to be able to tell your silly mid-off from your short back­ward square to ap­pre­ci­ate the emo­tions in­volved. All you needed was to have found your­self at some point in your life lost in some­thing that was yours, to the be­muse­ment of all around you.

Maybe you grew mush­rooms or made your own beer or took up night fish­ing for a cou­ple of years. You put in the hours and did the work and ab­sorbed a level of nu­ance that would cause your friends’ eyes to glaze over as soon as you started talk­ing about it. What­ever it was, it was your thing. Heard from Mick lately? Ah, sure you know Mick – hasn’t a spare hour since he went in on that hol­i­day home in Strand­hill with his surf­ing bud­dies.

That’s what it is to be into cricket in Ire­land. There are mi­nor­ity sports and then there are mi­nor­ity sports that can take five days to play and still end in a draw. There are mi­nor­ity sports and then there are mi­nor­ity sports played by Her Majesty’s sub­jects and her colonies. To ad­mit to cricket in Ire­land is to mark one­self out as a sub­ver­sive of some sort, or at the very least a lit­tle bit odd.

A few years ago at a lunch, this col­umn got but­ton­holed by an ama­teur boxing coach. His com­plaint was the usual – news­pa­per cov­er­age of his sport and the lack thereof. In vaguely apolo­getic tones, he was told that if news­pa­pers thought there was an ap­petite for it among read­ers, there’d be a four-page pull-out on ama­teur boxing every day of the week. He wasn’t hav­ing it.

“Ah g’way,” he said. “The rea­son you don’t cover it is it’s a work­ing-class sport. Sim­ple as that.” “Okay, well, what about cricket, then?” “What about it?” “We don’t do a whole pile of cricket ei­ther and you wouldn’t call cricket a work­ing-class sport.”

“Here, don’t be telling me cricket is a sport. That’s only for weirdos and Brit-lick­ers.”

Well, the weirdos and Brit-lick­ers had their day at last. And, of course, cricket be­ing cricket and Ire­land be­ing Ire­land, it rained through­out that day and there was no play to be had. No mat­ter. All it meant was a full week­end of it out un­der an in­ter­mit­tently warm sun in Malahide and a guar­an­tee that there would still be a match to be played to­day. A wel­come guar­an­tee, con­sid­er­ing that by yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, the prospect of Pak­istan mak­ing it a three-day af­fair wasn’t a mil­lion miles away.

That’s all part of it, too. As Em­met Rior­dan pointed out on our Added Time pod­cast last week, it took New Zealand 26 years to win a match after they’d been made a test na­tion. Ire­land are go­ing to have to put up with a few days like yes­ter­day as this thing un­furls.

Yet you can be guar­an­teed that none of the small band of Irish cricket folk who have the game in their blood spent even a mo­ment over the week­end think­ing they should have been care­ful what they wished for. Ar­riv­ing on the world stage is a step along the road. Hav­ing to fol­low on after be­ing all out for 130 was go­ing to be another, whether it came in the first match or later on down the line. Be­ing there is the thing, at least at the start.

We don’t make life easy for mi­nor­ity sports. For all that the boxing coach men­tioned above saw a class war as the prob­lem, the truth of it is that his sport suf­fers from pre­cisely the same sort of prej­u­dice as the cricket chaps he so read­ily de­rided. They aren’t soc­cer, they aren’t GAA and they aren’t rugby. That’s the long and short of it.

Big three

The big three sports are the ones that draw the eye­balls, that cre­ate the stars, that don’t have to fight tooth and nail to get new blood in through the gates every year. Or if they do, those fights are strictly among them­selves. Ev­ery­one else mud­dles through on what’s left over.

It’s no ac­ci­dent that Olympians are fre­quently the most in­ter­est­ing sports­peo­ple to talk to. Every one of them has made it to within touch­ing dis­tance of the top of a sport that has, for as long as they’ve been alive, been a mi­nor­ity pur­suit in Ire­land. They’re box­ers or swim­mers or ath­letes or bad­minton play­ers or shoot­ers or what­ever else.

Some­where in their youth, they found some­thing they were good at and de­cided to give their lives over to it de­spite the fact their friends were al­most cer­tainly play­ing some­thing else. They stuck at it when no­body gave a damn what they were do­ing with their time. They did it them­selves and their per­son­al­ity was shaped ac­cord­ingly.

Irish cricket has lifted it­self up in much the same way. Even when they made such a splash at World Cups in 2007 and four years later, full test sta­tus felt a long way off. They had to be their own ris­ing tide, lift­ing num­bers and stan­dards and all the rest of it to an ac­cept­able point be­fore they could be wel­comed into the in­ter­na­tional fold. That they had to do it to the in­dif­fer­ence of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion as well makes it all the more ad­mirable.

A few of the cricket writ­ers made a point dur­ing the week of name-drop­ping the peo­ple who had pulled their eter­nal stumps be­fore get­ting to see this hap­pen. Peo­ple who had nur­tured the game and the peo­ple play­ing it for no par­tic­u­lar pro­file and cer­tainly no re­ward. Who kept their sport alive for no good rea­son other than the best one – the fact that they loved it and lived it, odd though it seemed to those around them.

If you don’t have a lit­tle room in your day for peo­ple like that, you’ve got to ask your­self who the weirdo is.

Ar­riv­ing on the world stage is a step along the road. Hav­ing to fol­low on after be­ing all out for 130 was al­ways go­ing to be another

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