Up until the real battle for the semi final spots started, everyone’s darling at the World 20-20 was Ireland.
Ireland had managed to qualify for the super 8s, while certain test-playing nations failed to, to wit Australia and Bangladesh. This certainly proved that they are the strongest associate nation (non-test-playing nation). While it should be noted that they qualified thanks to a win over Bangladesh, that’s an achievement we are unlikely to see any other associate manage, especially now that Kenya has fallen away.
It has been that way for a while however. Compared to the other associate nations, Ireland are in their own league. They completely dominated the recent 2009 World Cup Qualifier (thus topping the World Cricket League) and they have won the Intercontinental Cup every year since 2005. They also have full ODI status and actually have some points in the rankings.
However, having made the super 8s, they were then soundly beaten by New Zealand and Pakistan and beaten by Sri Lanka. They had three opportunities to pick up super 8 points, but ended their tournament with only a win over Bangladesh from the qualifying round. Consider how disappointing New Zealand’s tournament was, with wins over only Scotland and Ireland, though NZ made Ireland look pretty damn poor when they played each other.
If Ireland, the top associate nation, went home from the World 20-20 happy with their performance whereas NZ, a very lowly ranked test-playing nation, went home disappointed despite having outperformed Ireland, you get some idea of the gulf between the associate and test-playing nations.
That gulf is well known, however.
Now, according to the future tours programme, NZ is currently scheduled to play Zimbabwe. That tour is not going ahead, essentially because of political differences between NZ and Zimbabwe. This leaves the NZ players doing nothing. This is a genuine window in NZ’s fixtures. Was any thought given to scheduling a small tour of Ireland during this window? The NZ players were already in the northern hemisphere. It is true that Ireland is now involved in the Intercontinental Cup, but this window opened months ago, leaving time for arrangements to be made if there was the will.
Ireland needs to be better rewarded for its achievements against the associates and needs more matches against higher ranked teams if they are going to progress further. I think with NZ’s regular winter window, we are in a unique position to help Ireland out every now and then. I know we did the same for Zimbabwe way back when (maybe only once, but I do remember Jeff Crowe leading a whistle stop tour there), which might have done much to lead them towards test status.