CRICKET is on a wave in Ireland, adding numbers by the week, according to the governing body. Cricket Ireland says more than 50,000 men, women and children played the game last year, with great potential for growth among the ‘new Irish’ communities.
Thousands of people from the south Asia hotbeds of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have settled here, boosting memberships and, where there were no clubs, founding their own.
Pat Bracken, author of the chapter on cricket in the forthcoming Atlas of Irish Sport, points out that the game was the most popular in the land from 1850 to the 1880s. 'It was played in every county and there were well over 970 teams active in the 1870s. Tipperary had 117 teams, with Nenagh alone having 11 in and around the town.’
However, Nenagh hadn’t had a club in living memory until a group of Asian devotees set one up in 2010.
Bracken explains: ‘The emergence of the Gaelic League, the break-up of the estate system and the growth of the GAA halted it in its tracks and the game went into decline, though remaining strong in the north of the country, Fingal in north Dublin, and in Dublin itself. By the first world war there were only nine teams in Co. Tipperary, a story which was replicated across much of Ireland.’ The number dropped steeply after independence.
This afternoon, both Nenagh’s 1st and 2nd XIs play in the finals of Munster T20 competitions.
CEO Philip Smith has overseen growth in Cricket Leinster activity, with more than 7,000 active players in competition. A survey of players in the province showed 52% had learned how to play here, as against 30% in India, and a further 10% in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Smith says: "The major growth is occurring in clubs clustered around the M50 and surrounding counties Meath, Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Westmeath. We have a dedicated team of nine full and part-time development staff who do great work growing the game all over the province."
The maturing of our Asian community means children are starting to join clubs and likely will soon have role models in the international teams. Leinster have capped Muzamil Shehzad from Afghanistan, while names such as Bhoja, Syam and Kumar have popped up on schoolgirl representative sides.