IRELAND managed to avoid an innings defeat at Lord’s on Saturday. The roar that greeted that minor success was made up of delighted Irish fans, supporters glad of a little extra play at the beautiful ground, and a good dose of English patronising of the plucky Irish.

England have a very, very good team at the moment and mouths are already watering at the prospect of ‘bazball’ being unleashed in the five Ashes tests against Australia that kick off in 11 days. So there was no disgrace in losing to such a side, and Cricket Ireland bigwigs were confident the fight shown had guaranteed a return visit.

Whether Ireland should be trying to go toe-to-toe in Test matches with world powers is another question entirely.

Ireland have lost all seven of the Tests played since elevation in 2019, and never really looked like winning any of them. That’s fine, winning tests is tough and no-one expects Ireland to eke one out anytime soon.

New Zealand’s first Test win came in their 45th match, 26 years after their first.  Bangladesh lost 27 out of their first 28 games, most of them by an innings, and didn’t win until their 36th. Both are now well-established, respected sides.

Cricket Ireland is also spancilled by the lack of a ground to stage big games, and had to pay around €500,000 to install the temporary infrastructure to host its first Test in 2019. The costs have prevented it attempting it since.

Niall O’Brien was Ireland’s wicketkeeper in that maiden test, and he’s not convinced Ireland should pursue playing the format.

‘Apart from personal accolades like a century or a five-wicket haul, which are amazing for the guys, but in the grand scheme of things what is the relevance of Tests to Irish cricket?,’ O’Brien says. ‘At the moment I can’t see the evidence for pursuing this to any great magnitude.

‘Unless Cricket Ireland can work hard to give their players six to eight matches a year. The odd game here or there is almost pointless apart from giving guys a chance to be a test match centurion or whatever.

‘It’s difficult’, he admits. ‘Some people are saying this Ireland team is well-prepared but three games in sub-continental conditions doesn’t get you ready to play test cricket.

‘What does is years and years playing first class cricket, honing your skills, technically, mentally and tactically. A captain has to prepare to deal with situations that present themselves. One-day and T20 cricket is fairly straightforward, the captain has a plan, he puts his fielders out, the bowlers know exactly what to do to every batsman. Test match cricket is totally different.

‘As a batsman you practice, tens of thousands of balls under your belt to become accustomed to how you go about it. Our players haven’t had the luxury of that yet, unlike myself, William Porterfield, Gary Wilson, Boyd Rankin and Ed Joyce who all played county cricket for 10-15 years.’

County cricket is now closed off to almost all Irish players who were reclassified from ‘local’ to ‘overseas’ and limited in number. It is a point that exercises Michael Halliday, who played 93 times for Ireland from 1970 to 1989.

‘I don’t think it was ever considered what the effect of becoming a test playing side would have when county cricket became a no-go area,’ he says. ‘Test cricket is in trouble apart from the top three or four teams. People don’t turn up to watch many of the games and they are expensive, almost side events, for some countries including Ireland.

‘How can players, especially bowlers, be expected to perform if they never play first-class cricket and are suddenly selected for a test match? Our excuses for first-class cricket in Ireland are not nearly sufficient or at a high enough quality.’

The three-day Interprovincial series was abandoned in 2020 because of Covid and has yet to return.

O’Brien is frustrated at this lack of first-class games: ‘I feel for these players because they’re not getting the opportunity to tune their red ball skills.

‘When Irish players were told they could no longer play in English cricket because of becoming full members, it shouldn’t have been beyond the heads of Cricket Ireland and the ECB to get together to work out a solution where Ireland players could play as local players. There are several in this match who are good enough to do well in county cricket, Lorcan Tucker, Harry Tector – what a player he’s going to be.’

‘But until they get the opportunity to play there, to play first-class cricket every day; to learn how to bat a whole day, for six hours; to bowl like Stuart Broad where every ball is right on a length. Until that happens it’s difficult.’

Restarting the three-day interpros will be postponed until Cricket Ireland gets over its financial woes, partly due to the International Cricket Council falling short in its promises.

‘We were underfunded having initially been promised $60 million in the eight-year cycle (2015-23) to ending up getting about $37 million,’ says Cricket Ireland high performance director Richard Holdsworth.

ICC has received a $3 billion media rights deal for 2024-27 and next month will decide how to divvy it up among its 12 full members and 96 associates. India, the financial engine of the game, is demanding it receive 37% of the pie.

ICC has indicated that Ireland will get around $18m annually, allowing it to fund more tests and first-class matches.

‘There’s a lot of chat from Cricket Ireland about their budget’, says O’Brien, now a commentator and sports agent.

‘If it’s all about finances then one day cricket is the way to go, but if want better results in tests they have to put their money where their mouth us. Otherwise, they can play the odd test match and keep getting hammered.

‘Something needs to be done or we’ll just repeat the failings when we come up against a really good team like England.

‘Is there a chance for Ireland to play 10 tests a year against the lesser sides, the likes of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the West Indies?

‘They will make a loss – no-one’s going to watch Ireland v Afghanistan on TV – but it’s an investment in the players. Ireland are going to get $18m a year for the next eight years, so can they pigeonhole $3-4m to preparing the players and playing tests.’

The one group who are really keen on Tests is the players, who want to push themselves in the purest, most demanding form of the game.

Lorcan Tucker, one of Ireland’s exciting young crop, explained in a pre-Test interview last week:

‘There’s a lot of focus on T20 and franchise cricket and the money it generates, but at the end of the day cricket is a game, not a revenue stream.

“Australia, England and India play a lot of Test cricket between themselves but there’s got to be more to Test cricket than just those big teams – and we want to be a part of that.”