It was a great moment of romance in our game when Ireland's admirable story of struggle and immense love for Cricket despite all the obstacles, reached the pinnacle where their men embraced the whites of Test Cricket against Pakistan. That one week in Malahide, everyone had something in their eyes.
Ireland has reached this far purely because they always wanted to reach here and were extremely determined for it. They have achieved what they had ambitioned for but the foundation of this dream was laid wearing that beautiful bright-green and taking on the world in the white ball arena.
That famous St. Pattrick day in 2007 at Jamaica, Trent Johnston, the then Ireland Captain had mentioned to his wards that they can play with some innate Irish spirit while chasing the most important 133 runs in the history of a country's sport or just go back to doing their daily jobs to survive.
Trent Johnston knew how important that game, an ODI, was. No other cricket nation knows the cost of loving their beloved sport like Ireland does.
The days like the ones in Jamaica, Banglore and Nelson in World Cups became the cornerstone of Ireland's bridge towards Test status. It's a nation that expressed how badly they wanted to play the red ball game by winning in one day cricket. ICC won't express it openly but it owes a lot to Ireland, a lot more than the 40m $ that it guarantees Ireland over the next eight years, for making their last two World Cups interesting.
It is incredibly saddening, then, that Ireland's white ball game has stagnated. They failed to reach the 10 team World Cup next year and are currently ranked 12th in ODI but what should also be highly alarming for Irish fraternity is the state of its T20 Cricket. Ireland is ranked 17th in the shortest format, well below Scotland, Zimbabwe, UAE, Netherlands and even Hong Kong and Oman.
Oman here is relevant, as it is against Oman that Ireland's limited overs issues were first seen. This was a qualifying round match from the 2016 World T20 and Ireland having just lost to Bangladesh in the first match, were expected to roll over the amateurs from Asia and book a knock-out against the Netherlands. What transpired then, shocked everyone.
The young Omanese team went onto out-bat, out-bowled and out-field, a side that was supposedly too good for them. Never has an Irish Cricket Team performed so poorly. That was downright embarrassing and depressing in a lot of ways. Ireland's best generation had declined without seeing the days they had strived for and that was a first reflection of it.
Since their first ever ODI in 2006, they have won 60 out of their 136 games but they won only 15 of them since the start of 2016 and not one of these fifteen is against a top full member. They have only won 6 of their last 20 T20 Internationals and are in a worrying situation where they could be missing out from the next World T20 in Australia, it is something they just can't afford.
Everyone knows, the ground reality is that Ireland's best opportunities are arriving at their door when their best generation is no longer good enough to excel at them. They recently went onto lose a T20I triangular against Netherlands and Scotland at home without reaching its final. It shows how far the associate world has reached but also reflects how Ireland has languished. But, Ireland has its spirit and courage. These are words they have so often been synonyms of. This is how they should approach their upcoming games against India.
Cricket Ireland has so often voiced their ambitions of making "Cricket mainstream" in a country that adores baseball, this is their opportunity to host the most popular cricket team in the world at the club ground in Malahide and take a giant leap towards it. Ireland doesn't have the money at all to consistently host cricket at pay-for facility like Malahide.
There's a story that when Cricket Ireland approached their national government for the help it needs, an official replied, "Why would we help you when the governing body of your sport doesn't even seem to want you?"
Ireland, it again be stated, will receive 40m $ from the ICC over the next eight years. 40m $ is less than what India will be getting from the same body every year. India doesn't need the ICC money and Ireland can't survive without it. India has its one big beast of a T20 tournament for 2 months every year and Ireland has an Inter-provincial league that somehow runs 2 weeks in the summers.
Ireland knows what they are up against. Virat Kohli's men will be overwhelming favourites when they step on the field on Wednesday and Friday but Ireland has the chance to reiterate what cricket means to them.
They have made a stride towards the new dawn by making Gary Wilson their captain and picking a few fine young players for the 2 games. These are not just 2 games, these are the only matches Ireland has left against a top-flight cricket nation this year. This is the chance Ireland has to revitalise their white-ball game. The world of cricket is full of remarkable stories of a touring team being unexpectedly triumphed by an under-dog. That is what Ireland should play these games in hope of. They have the chance to start a new chapter in their admirable story of courage and immense love for this sport that has so often been unkind to them. This is the chance for Ireland to show what Cricket means to them.
The two T20Is will be played on 27th and 29th June at Malahide in Dublin.
Gary Wilson(c), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Joshua Little, Andy McBrine, Kevin O Brien, William Porterfield, Stuart Poynter, Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson