Wednesday is a significant day for Irish cricket: a third Test match in the country’s history, a first against England, at the Home of Cricket, on television and in the midst of a swell of interest in the sport, thanks to a recently concluded World Cup and an approaching Ashes series.
For Warren Deutrom the match represents the fulfilment of years of hard work. The Cricket Ireland chief executive has seen the organisation change beyond recognition since joining in December 2006.
“You could probably say that my title of chief executive at that stage was grand, because actually I was chief and only executive of Cricket Ireland,” he tells City A.M. “The only other salaried employee was our national coach.”
Since the former International Cricket Council and England and Wales Cricket Board event manager took the helm Cricket Ireland has expanded from two paid employees to around 100 and grown turnover from €260,000 to €10.5m.
“By pretty much any metric it has grown extraordinarily in just 12 and a half years,” Deutrom says. “When you consider 8-10 of those years were in a pretty devastating recession, especially in Ireland, I think you can say it represents impressive growth.”
There have been many important moments along the way, but for Deutrom it all started with the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. Ireland made their debut – and a splash, tying with Zimbabwe and beating Pakistan to reach the Super Eight stage.
“It put Irish cricket in the shop window,” he says. “With visibility came interest, then revenue and the ability to invest back into that senior squad of players, who were clearly the means by which we could drive interest in the game.”
Funding from the Irish Sport Council allowed governance reform, brought on sponsorship from RSA Insurance and attracted Phil Simmons as head coach. Improvement on the pitch continued before Ireland’s most famous moment changed things again.
Kevin O’Brien’s brutal 50-ball century to defeat England in Bangalore at the 2011 World Cup set the wheels in motion for the decision which has allowed Ireland to reach Lord’s this week.
“That was the moment which said to me ‘why can’t we chase Test status?’,” Deutrom says.
There were other staging posts on the way – 10,000 people turning up for a one-day international against England at Malahide in 2013, the win over West Indies at the 2015 World Cup – before Ireland finally became a Full Member of the ICC in 2017.
Tests against Pakistan and Afghanistan have followed, but Ireland arrive at Lord’s looking for their first victory in the format – albeit over four days, rather than five.
Ireland failed to qualify for the World Cup England so memorably claimed with victory over New Zealand at Lord’s. But while Deutrom would back an expansion of the current 10-team format, Test status has softened the blow of missing out on the party.
“Our world has changed in so many ways. Previously for us the World Cup was the be all and end all, because we didn’t play that many fixtures in between,” he explains.
“Often as a sport we flew under the radar and sank into obscurity between World Cups because we just didn’t have the fixtures. Now we have the exact opposite scenario: we didn’t make the World Cup but now we have the fixtures in the Future Tours programme.”
While the Lord’s Test shows how far they’ve come, the realities of Cricket Ireland’s position were underlined in October when Deutrom was forced to loan his organisation €100,000 of his own money after banks refused a loan to help resolve “short-term cash-flow issues” due to “two or three very significant debtors” not paying on time.
“When you become a Full Member it’s a simple and straight decision, but it doesn’t suddenly flick a switch in terms of your permanent infrastructure coming up overnight,” he says.
Those problems are behind him now and Deutrom is focused on making the most of Ireland’s opportunity this week. He will be hosting a reception at the Irish embassy on Tuesday evening in an attempt to forge links with the Irish business community in London before enjoying the fruits of his labour on Wednesday, which, as he explains, is about exposure as much as history.
He says: “Is Test cricket going to be the format which Cricket Ireland is going to focus on and invest in to improve our players and attract greater interest in the sport? No, it’s not. We know Test cricket isn’t the format which will popularise the game. But it provides an extraordinary opportunity to be in the sunlight a little bit.
“This is a powerful, symbolic moment. It’s Ireland, it’s who we’re playing, the format we’re playing and where we’re doing it. Nothing symbolises better the journey we’ve taken from small, humble beginnings to where we are today.”
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