In early March, news came out of a possible tour of Australia to be scheduled for the Australian season in 2022/23 for the Ireland Senior Men’s team. While this sounds a mouthwatering prospect, one must ask how likely such a plan actually is.
Securing such a test match in Australia would be a huge reward for Cricket Ireland particularly in the wake of several cancellations in the Irish schedule, of which the pandemic has of course played its role, but there have also been factors to be considered.
To date there have been matches in Australia scheduled against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, all which have been postponed – as well as a tour of Bangladesh which has no future date set.
Originally planned for November 2020, Afghanistan’s first ever test match on home soil is now down for the 2021/22 season and to be played in Hobart. But the touring side’s administrators would be more comfortable with further assurances that the fixture will indeed take place.
As is often the case in international cricket scheduling, politics plays its role. Cricket Australia have four test matches away in India currently set in the calendar for September to November 2022, and just before this Australia have an away test scheduled against Afghanistan in Greater Noida, India (Afghanistan’s “home” venue).
Although ultimately an unsuccessful result (1-3), England preceded their most recent four test tour of India with a two match series against Sri Lanka which was to prepare them for similar conditions in India (and they played similar tests against Bangladesh before their test tour of India in 2016).
Have Australia scheduled their home test against Afghanistan to secure an away test in 2022, to help them prepare for their test matches against India that immediately follow?
If they have, it is a great idea. It would mean Australia should be adequately prepared (or as well prepared as they can be). Yet it does appear as though test match series between the so-called Big Three (Englaind, Australia, India) take precedence and that fixtures against smaller nations (in cricketing terms) could be chosen cynically to prepare for bigger contests.
If so, it highlights the growing divide in world cricket. Ireland have been offered an away test in Australia, but is that also with an eye on Australia’s tour of England for the Ashes in 2024, just to help them prepare for European conditions? It’s too early to say.
From Ireland’s perspective, finance plays a huge role but politics largely does not. Or at least not in the same way as it does for cricket nations with the financial and political power of England, India and Australia. The pandemic will have most definitely hurt Cricket Ireland like many national associations across the world, but planned fixtures that are suddenly postponed hurt too. They affect that association’s calendar and financial planning (which for smaller cricketing nations must be planned in fine detail to survive).
One could also argue whether such scheduling is detrimental to “smaller” nations such as Ireland, Afghanistan or indeed Bangladesh. Important fixtures may be secured for the calendar, but can larger nations be relied upon to fulfill their fixtures?
The most recent Super League fiasco in the world of football shows what can happen when the gulf widens too much between the top and smallest teams at a particular level. Much in the way many are considering the possibility of a realignment in European football for fairer competition, perhaps the cricket world should perhaps consider how different theirs is.