Northamptonshire wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien hopes the International Cricket Council do reverse an initial decision not to allow qualification for the 2015 World Cup – otherwise fearing that a generation of Irish youngsters will be lost to the game.
The 29-year-old from Dublin is proud to have represented the ‘Emerald Isle’ at the last two World Cups. He was made man-of-the-match after scoring 72 to inspire Ireland’s three-wicket win over Pakistan at Sabina Park in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, and was hollering from the Ireland dressing room as his brother, Kevin, bludgeoned the 50-ball hundred that sent England spinning to an infamous defeat in Bangalore in March.
O’Brien admits he felt deflated and dismayed by the ICC’s immediate post-tournament resolution to bar burgeoning associate member nations such as Ireland, Holland, Canada, Scotland and Kenya from the next two World Cups. Since then, however, the ICC have indicated that they will reconsider this decision, and introduce a qualification process or, indeed, expand the tournament to 12 teams.
“All that euphoria over beating England didn’t count for much after I heard about the ICC’s initial decision,” admitted the former Kent gloveman.
“I was playing for Northamptonshire in a three-day game up at Loughborough when they announced it, but the first I knew of it was when I switched on my phone after coming in from fielding. I had over 100 texts and tweets from people all over the world asking me ‘what’s going on?’
“I’ll admit I was very quiet on the team bus that night. The Northants lads were asking why I was so down, but it had just dawned on me that I’d probably never play in another World Cup.”
O’Brien, whose father Brendan won 52 caps for Ireland, added: “I was shocked to bits because I felt we’d done enough in India to convince them (the ICC) that Ireland were worthy of a place.
“We’d played some good cricket and the Indian people really got behind us. A lot of pundits have said since that the associate nations have earned the right to qualify at least.”
And, according to O’Brien, any decision to exclude the associates could have a profound effect on player development in Ireland. He added: “For the past couple of years the sole focus of Irish cricket has been gearing up toward World Cup tournaments.
“Our performance out in the West Indies in 2007 inspired the likes of George Dockrell and Paul Stirling to stick with the game because they wanted to be in the 2011 World Cup squad.
“Without that light to aim for at the end of the tunnel it’s hard to know how Irish cricket would react if we weren’t in a World Cup, or how we could survive into the future if there was so little to work towards.”