Thursday, May 30, 2024

Ireland Postpones Big Cricket Series With Australia Due To Financial Pressures

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As Ireland celebrated a historic first-ever Test victory after beating Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, the jubilation was tempered for their administrators who were frantically trying to balance budgets and logistics ahead of what was meant to be a bumper summer.

The headliner for the 2024 Ireland cricket season was a short visit by powerhouse Australia for three ODIs and a one-off T20 in August and September. It was notable because Australia and Ireland had never played a bilateral series against each other before.

Australia’s hierarchy had also over the years earned an unwanted reputation of not wanting to play smaller nations. There had been hope for some time that Ireland officials could entice Australia with a short visit to Ireland before or after touring England.

And so was the case later this year with Australia agreeing to journey to the Emerald Isle before going to England. But the realities were gnawing for Ireland’s administrators, who realized that financial losses would ensue if the Australia series were to go ahead.

After my report last month, which flagged the postponement, the issue entered the mainstream and Cricket Ireland was suddenly under pressure to shed light on its upcoming fixtures.

In the backdrop, Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom reluctantly called his Australia counterpart Nick Hockley and told him that the series had to be postponed.

“It was a difficult conversation….to say, ‘look Nick, we’ve looked at our schedule, we think we’re going to have to make some fairly difficult choices here about what stays and what goes, and we’ve concluded – difficult though it might be to believe – that we reckon this is the only way forward’,” Deutrom told The Final Word podcast.

“The simple fact for us was that because we have so few pitches here in Ireland that can host international cricket, we had to make a fairly difficult decision.

“It required us to have to open up Malahide Cricket Ground, and if we were going to do that, we estimated it was going to be a very, very significant six-figure loss for us, to have to open up Malahide.

“The fact is, broadcast rights wise, Australia would probably be the fourth-largest of all the various (opponents) that we would have… it wouldn’t even have covered the cost of production.”

Ireland, however, will host a one-off Test against Zimbabwe in Belfast from July 25-29. It will be just Ireland’s ninth Test match and only second at home since their debut in the format against Pakistan in 2018.

But a home white-ball series against South Africa has been moved to Abu Dhabi in another blow for the perception of cricket in Ireland, which is deemed a minor sport in the country.

The scheduling woes have accelerated the urgency for Ireland to push the government to fund a permanent stadium in Dublin.

“Once we have a national stadium fit for purpose, meaning we won’t need to outlay huge sums of investment to somebody else’s pockets in temporary infrastructure, then it starts to become realistic to host Test matches,” Cricket Ireland high performance director Richard Holdsworth told me last year.

Financial peril isn’t new ground for Ireland, who have had to battle ever since it was admitted as a Full Member – given to just 12 cricket nations – in 2017. “We were underfunded having initially been promised $60 million in the eight-year cycle (2015-23) to ending up getting about $37 million,” Holdsworth said.

While a tough pill to swallow, Ireland are hoping the scheduling measures will be beneficial for the long-term sustainability of the sport in the country. It may well prove prudent and Ireland have dressed up the Australia series as a postponement rather than cancellation.

But Australia’s next visit to the U.K. is not scheduled until 2027 for the Ashes and – given their sketchy record – one wonders when this historic bilateral series will actually be played.

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