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Cricket: Irish push world role

WHILE Ireland's cricketers basked in their stunning World Cup victory over England yesterday, the country's cricket authorities were busy making sure the team is included in the next edition of the tournament.

All-rounder Kevin O'Brien smashed the fastest-ever World Cup century on Wednesday to guide Ireland to one of the tournament's biggest upsets, a remarkable three-wicket win over Andrew Strauss's Ashes winners.

However, despite dishing out a similar upset to Pakistan four years ago, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is planning to shut out so-called Associate members, such as Ireland, from the 2015 World Cup as they slim the tournament from 14 teams to 10.

Limiting participation to the 10 fullmember ICC countries, when Ireland has been ranked 10th in the one-day world rankings for most of the past four years, would be “astonishing”, according to the head of the Irish cricket board.

“Clearly there are more than 10 competitive countries in 50-over cricket and we feel that last night's performance demonstrates eloquently the value of having a qualification process for a World Cup,” Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom said yesterday.

“It would be fair to say the sport would have to have a very, very hard look at itself if that were not to come to pass.”

SWASHBUCKLING

Deutrom, who has spent the 24 hours following the victory fielding interviews from around the world, said the best way for Ireland to state its case to the ICC is to keep upping the team's profile.

He could not have wished for a better advertisement than O'Brien's swashbuckling century, reached in just 50 balls.

However, with Ireland unlikely to be ready for full Test status for another five to 10 years, according to Deutrom, they still face the risk of losing players to Test teams.

O'Brien, and perhaps more likely teenage left-arm spinner George Dockrell, may well follow batsmen Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan in swapping their Irish colours for those of England.

“We can't blame players for wanting to be as good as they can be and then place a limit on those ambitions,” Deutrom said.

“We blame the system that makes those players have to leave because the form of the game that is regarded as the pinnacle of the sport (Test cricket) isn't open to us.”

But, unlike four years ago, when the head of cricket admitted his administration were unprepared for the jump in interest in the sport following the shock win over Pakistan, they are now ready to capitalise.

Deutrom bullishly predicts that by 2015 Ireland can double its 24,500 registered cricketers – already up from 15,000 four years ago – and having a new Irish sporting hero will make that task even easier.

“Kevin O'Brien made himself into a hero in the same way Ray Houghton did in (the European soccer championships) 1988, and in the same way that (Irish rugby captain) Brian O'Driscoll did when he announced himself in Paris all those years ago,” Deutrom said proudly.

“If kids see heroes, kids want to emulate those heroes. That's why we believe it's possible.”