As if looking to grow the popularity of cricket in Ireland (and shift €149 season tickets) wasn't a difficult enough task already, the Irish cricket team have been left in the position of having no firm home fixtures for the Summer of 2014.
There are various reasons for this but needless to say full members of the ICC do not have the same worries given that their fixtures both home and away are clearly mapped out up until 2020. Ireland on the other hand, who are undeniably the strongest associate team in all formats of the game given their 2013 treble are left relying on full members having the goodwill and appetite required for very few ranking point and some very competitive cricket in surroundings they may not be all that familiar with. Bangladesh's' initial interest and ultimate refusal to partially fill a six month gap in their calender in 2013 demonstrated the difficulty in coercing full member nations into tour Ireland. Other issues include being unable to televise games if the England Cricket Team are playing on the same day as well as managing the relationship with county championship clubs who employ many of Ireland's senior players. Regular home games against the elite global nations are crucial if Cricket Ireland are to take advantage of the ever increasing population of casual cricket fans in Ireland. A combination of 3 of the below would seem to be desirable this season.
High on the list of probables rather than possibles will be the number 1 ODI side in the world India. Given that they will be in the UK from Late June to early September, Cricket Ireland will certainly be enquiring about their availability to play in Ireland. India have previously played in Ireland in a one off ODI in 2007 and while this was poorly attended a repeat visit would likely see the highest match attendance of the season. One obvious drawback would be the condensed nature of their schedule as things stand(India are currently scheduled to play in Bangladesh in June). The main possibilities would seem to be one off games in either June or September. The most likely venue would be Malahide given the hugely successful attendance against England on a Tuesday last September. As with South Africa in 2012 a reserve side touring Ireland during the first teams tour of England may be a distinct possibility given the obvious advantages to the touring side.
2. Sri Lanka
As sure as night turns to day when a side is scheduled to tour England they immediately arrive on Cricket Ireland's radar in terms of suggesting fixtures. While Sri Lanka may not be the same draw as India to the average Irish cricket follower their current schedule leaves them in a more comfortable position to play a number of games in Ireland. The teams were scheduled to play a one off ODI in Edinburgh in 2011. Unfortunately this was rained off at the time with the Sri Lankan captain Tillakaratne Dilshan drawing the ire of some Irish players that day for seeming less than eager to play a game that day. The most likely suggestion from Cricket Ireland may be 2 to 3 ODI's in the final week of June. ODI's would seem preferential to T20's given that the one day world cup will be 6 months away at this point. Multi day cricket while desirable for Ireland has generally proven to be difficult to arrange with full members due to the lack of advantages to the full member team, Ireland's inability to field county based players and the daily cost of hosting the touring side.
Pakistan 'Friend of the Associates' will most likely be contacted by Cricket Ireland given their fixture less 6 months from April through to September and their previous willingness to tour Ireland, play games on a weekend and visit local schools for coaching sessions. The exciting finishes to the games played last year as well as the colour and noise of the Pakistani supporters would surely attract an even larger crowd should a tour be agreed. The obvious downfall would be the cost of such a tour. Last year the games were arranged immediately after a Pakistani tour of the West Indies. With no such tour currently existing to cushion the travel costs projected revenues would need to be larger. A workable solution may be arranging a European tour involving the Netherlands and Scotland (Both of whom lack fixtures) for the Pakistani team thus dividing the cost of the tour to a more manageable level. 2 ODI's & a T20 in Ireland followed by an ODI in each of Scotland and the Netherland may prove profitable to all concerned. But what would Pakistan say...
With Bangladesh due to tour the West Indies during the month of August a short series of Warm up games in July or alternatively a stopover en route to Asia in September ala Pakistan in 2013 may be a genuine possibility. Intriguingly the North West Cricket Union who had been earmarked to host Bangladesh in 2013 have moved their cup final forward by one weekend with the rumour locally being that this is to accommodate an International fixtures. Could that be the return of the Bangladeshi's. To those who fully understand the current plight of Cricket Ireland this tour would be as exciting as they come given the opportunity to knock off a full member. Conspiracy theorists would have you believe playing Ireland in a 50 over match wouldn't tickle their fancy much. Hopefully those theorists are wrong. Should a tour be arranged 2 ODI's and 1 T20 or vice versa would seem most likely. The venue for such games could well be Bready.
5. New Zealand
While the Kiwis are due to tour in the West Windies in June & July a stopoff in Ireland either on the way to or the way back seems highly unlikely. Having only played the Blackcaps once outside of World Events in Aberdeen in 2008 no real relationship or rivalry has ever been developed on the cricket field at least. Given that the Kiwis will be coming off a long West Indies tour as well as their own bumper home schedule rest and recuperation will most likely be their teams orders come the end of July.
6. Scotland & The Netherlands
Although not the first choice for many punters, given the fact that all three teams may well be without fixtures tri-series could easily prove attractive to the coaching set ups if no one else. One peculiar advantage would be county players lack of availability for the fixtures could provide Phil Simmons an opportunity to cast his eye over some of the talents on the edge of the setup. Another advantage would be to schedule a game in the first class format as a reminder to the ICC of where this team ultimately wants to play.
The phrase 'Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me Away' comes to mind when considering the possibilities of this tour. Only I mean Zimbabwe couldn't be dragged away from Zimbabwe. Despite a gap of 7 weeks in May and June a tour is highly unlikely given the current financial situation in Zimbabwe, the commercial unsuitability of the fixtures and the lack of sporting incentives for the Zimbabweans to comply. In this relationship the most likely fixtures may be in Harare at some stage in the future.
Beyond these 7 potential tours it must be said the prospects look slim. England who will most likely be in Ireland in 2015 for a game will be fulfilling their duty to associates in Europe against Scotland this year. In fairness their schedule is also jam packed. Australia and South Africa by virtue of the fact that they will not be in this hemisphere during the summer can almost certainly be ruled out. The West Indies who have been very generous to Ireland indeed this winter would almost certainly not be asked to tour all though they may well consider it in the future should Ireland continue to improve.
An extremely desirable fixture list may look something like this:
24/05 ODI/T20I vs Netherlands, Netherlands, Potential Attendance N/A (Tri-Series)
26-29 First Class vs Netherlands, Netherlands, Potential Attendance N/A (Tri-Series)
21/06 ODI Vs India , Malahide , Potential Attendance 10,000 (TV)
27/06 T20I vs Sri Lanka , Malahide , Potential Attendance 4,000 (TV)
29/06 ODI vs Sri Lanka , Malahide , Potential Attendance 4,000
23/07 ODI vs Pakistan , Stormont , Potential Attendance 2,500 (TV)
26/07 ODI vs Pakistan , Stormont , Potential Attendance 4,000 (TV)
16/08 ODI/T20I vs Scotland, The Mardyke, Potential Attendance 400 (Tri-Series)
18-21 First Class vs Scotland, Clontarf, Potential Attendance Cumulative 600 (Tri-Series)
04/09 ODI vs Bangladesh , Bready, Potential Attendance 1,500
06/09 ODI/T20I vs Bangladesh , Bready, Potential Attendance 3,000 (TV)