Cricket is a game that beguiles. It does not give up its charms easily but for those who are smitten there is no finer pursuit in the sporting realm.
At Malahide in North County Dublin yesterday it put its best foot forward in a way that had never been seen before in Ireland. And the phrase that rang around the tree lined boundary was “isn’t this fantastic?”
Warren Deutrom, Dennis Cousins and the team at Cricket Ireland took a calculated gamble in pursuit of an ambition that has grown in recent years and yesterday passed a significant milestone with flying colours.
The best estimate of the financial exposure taken on to build a 10,000 seater temporary but international standard arena was between €375,000 and €400,000. When the final financial calculations are done they will likely show that a small cash profit was made.
In straitened times that is important but the real and invaluable benefit lies in the establishment of the sport in the public eye as a serious endeavour, with the scope for young players to advance, and as a medium for corporate investment that delivers a return.
RSA Insurance is the main commercial partner of the sport in Ireland. It took a two story corporate entertainment facility at the ground yesterday and global executives, including the group CEO were present to mingle among the many hundreds of high end clients who came early, stayed late and were given a day of sport they will long remember.
It was a day when captains of industry, Presidents and ordinary families could mix and enjoy sport in the Indian summer sunshine that bathed the venue. Minister Leo Varadkar and officials from Government were there, alongside former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, the Chair and CEO of the Irish Sports Council and those down the years that have helped to build the Cricket Ireland capacity to host such an event.
The media were present in force with events leading the sports bulletins throughout the day and sports editors including Malachy Logan of the Irish Times and John Green of the Sunday Independent taking in the action.
Like so much sport, to be present was a pleasure and a revelation on how the game is played and why every ball contributes to the fine sense of theatre. Adjustments in the fielding positions, a glance from a batsman, the ground covered at pace by a fielder to prevent a boundary, all are better understood and enjoyed in the wide angle lens that is the human eye rather than the electronic one of TV.
And yet TV played an important part, as it so often does. Sky Sports beamed live and continuous coverage around the world and pictures of the beautiful setting will have been seen by officials from Cricket’s international seats of power that were not present, as well as a global cricket audience in the millions.
It showed that the ambition to become one of the top nations in the world, and playing full test cricket by 2014 was not just Irish whimsy but a well thought through objective that will deliver.
There is vast money in cricket, and it is divided equally first among the top ten nations who share 75%, then among the Associate countries, of which Ireland is the leading light who share the remainder.
Our interview this summer with CEO Warren Deutrom details the breakdown of how that money is put to use. It is a position shared by soccer in that the international governing bodies are well disposed towards Ireland and that is of benefit to all.
There is also a direct commercial benefit for businesses who hitch their hopes to a rising sport. Within the Cricket Village yesterday brands such as Toyota, Heineken, RSA and Emirates were proudly showing their wares to an audience that had time and inclination to support those that helped to make the experience enjoyable.
The boundary was festooned with advertising banners ranging from Standard Chartered to the Grand Hotel in Malahide where SKY TV alone had booked no fewer than 70 rooms for the outside broadcast team that was brought in.
Just as with the sailing in Dun Laoghaire this week, the All Ireland Final on Sunday, the Soccer International on Friday, sport delivers for local economies.
When the ambition to innovate is nurtured and supported, it can create days like Ireland against England. Days that can spark the imagination of young players and create an environment which brings an individual sport out into a brave new world.
England won on the scorecard yesterday, albeit with generous help from Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin, once of Green rather than yesterday’s Red.
The real winners though were cricket, sport in general and Ireland which has found another wonderful stepping stone to a world where sport is the one true common language, both of personal engagement, and of business.