Do They Play Cricket in Ireland? is journalist David Townsend’s story of following the Ireland team for 25 years as they rise from being one of almost 100 Associate teams to full Test member, taking in the battle for ODI status, iconic World Cup victories, and a first Test in Dublin against Pakistan – all culminating, a year later, in a Test against England at Lord’s before the Ashes. In the first of three extracts, the Ireland coach finds himself in a bruising tete-a-tete with an unhappy team member during the ICC Trophy in 2001
Another ICC Trophy, another new country. Canada. Apart from a six-hour stopover in Los Angeles, on the way home from Australia, I’d not spent any time in north America; the place has never appealed to me. So a trip to Toronto for the World Cup qualifiers was more of a chore than other Ireland adventures, and it wasn’t one to look back on with any affection.
The ICC had devised a four-division system for the tournament to separate the better teams and hopefuls in the early stages yet still give all 24 teams a chance. Ireland found themselves in one of the two top divisions from which three teams would qualify for the Super Eight Stage, plus the winner of a play-off between the fourth-placed team a side topping one of the two lower divisions.
It was a clever little set-up that initially rewarded previous form among the leading Associates but also gave lesser lights a pathway to claims one of the three World Cup places on offer, as Namibia eventually did.
The key qualifying game was against Scotland. Not a straightforward do-or-die as it had been in Kuala Lumpur but the loser would find it difficult to finish in the top four of the Super Eight, especially if that loser was Ireland. The skipper decided to bat. How would Decker Curry go, we wondered? We had to wait a while to find out because despite his near century as an opener in the previous game, the big man was back down at No 5. And not happy. Not at all happy.
Progress was slow. Dom Joyce again outscored his brother who made 33 from 70 balls. Decker, out of sorts and chuntering, made one. There was no late surge and a total of 174-8 surely wasn’t enough. “Have they got any chance of defending that?” I asked Darrell Hair, during the break.
“You’re asking one of the umpires, during the game, who he thinks will win?” Eyebrows raised. Bloody ACU. It wasn’t as though there was a betting market. Although there probably was, somewhere. Stupid question, anyway – we both knew the answer.
While our cordial exchange was going on outside, a feisty confrontation was taking place in the lunch queue between an embattled coach and a messed-around sheep strangler. Voices were raised, fingers poked and there was, shall we say, a tete-a-tete, a meeting of minds… Ok, let’s be specific, Decker headbutted [Ken] Rutherford. Not with any great force but with sufficient to end his international career. A passionate cricketer, one with a desperate desire to play in the World Cup, had reached the end of his tether.
I learned of the episode that evening from Mike Hendrick, now the Scotland assistant coach, who was drinking with his boss Jim Love, the two of them in good spirits after a seven-wicket win. “I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but…”
Decker was sent home the following morning and didn’t play for Ireland again.
Tomorrow: Do you want to be teaching geography in Belfast on Monday morning? The pep talk that helped beat Pakistan
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