Transcript: Couch Talk with William Porterfield

Couch Talk 160 (Play)

Guest: William Porterfield, Ireland Captain

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is the Captain of Ireland William Porterfield. He talks about his team’s performance in the 2015 world cup, ICC’s decision to reduce the 2019 tournament to 10 teams, and also the impact of a golden generation of irish cricketers on grassroots cricket back home, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, William!

William Porterfield (WP)– Thank you very much!

SJ– How are you doing, coming back from the World Cup?

WP– Doing very well, thanks. I had a bit of time off before starting with Warwickshire. So, looking forward to starting the county season.

SJ– As the tournament ended, what was your take on how Ireland did in the World Cup this time?

WP– On reflection, we played very well. We were disappointed that we didn’t qualify [to the quarterfinal], missing out on net run rate (NRR). Looking back on the tournament, we did a lot of things, we played some really good cricket consistently throughout, and the games that we lost were because we were beaten by the better team on that day.

SJ– Your batting seemed to be working fine and putting on big scores, but it was the bowling that seemed to be letting you down and possibly prevented you from reaching the quarter final berth that was within your reach. Perhaps the absence of Tim (Murtagh), perhaps Boyd (Rankin)? It was quite puzzling from the outside because coming into the tournament, Craig Young was doing quite well too [but didn’t get to play]?

WP– Our batters did do very well, on some very good pitches. We left ourselves a bit short in the last two games. It is easy to jump on the bowlers, but I think we left ourselves fewer runs short especially against India. In that first game, we were in a very good position but we were 50-60 short, even that may not have been enough. But it would have been a competitive total. In the game against Pakistan, we lost a few too many wickets and left ourselves too much work to do to on the back end to set up a very good total. We obviously know Pakistan – very good side, bowling especially at the death. We were disappointed that we didn’t capitalise there as well, from a decent start.

SJ– What was your expectation going into the World Cup? If you achieve certain things, that is a minimum that you had to do, and whatever comes after it is a bonus? What were your expectations, and how did it match with the performances on the field?

WP– The thing that we wanted to do was to get to the Quarter finals. I don’t think that was too much, that was well within our reach the way we played. From the outside, I am not sure whether many gave us that chance. There was belief and the preparation was good individually and in the squad, that was very good. We brought all that together and put in big performances. In the game against the West Indies, which we needed to win, we put our performances together in all three aspects of the game and had a comfortable win in the end.

SJ– Especially that West Indies game win, if that were to have happened two tournaments ago, it would have been called an upset. But, the fact that it wasn’t called an upset by everybody – there were some that talked about it – but that only showed that they were paying attention to Ireland cricket. What was your thinking when the results happened, were you expecting all along?

WP– Yes, very much so. We prepared for that, we prepared to beat that team and see some aspects come together in the first game of the tournament on a very good pitch. To restrict the West Indies to what we did was a very good effort, probably par on that pitch. We went out and knocked the runs off with a lot of confidence and freedom. It epitomised everything we talked about before the build up to the tournament. We spoke about starting the tournament with positive intent and not tip-toeing into the tournament. We did that very well. It was the most satisfying thing we have had, not just in the competition, but for a while it was hard, because we brought all three aspects together, and it wasn’t a surprise at all for us.

SJ– Obviously your coach, Phil Simmons, is now going to go and be the coach of West Indies – a twist of irony I suppose. What has been his impact as the coach over the last few years? What aspect of his coaching do you think you would miss the most?

WP– His knowledge of the game, the way he looks at the game – he is a very talented cricketer himself. But, he just brings out that knowledge and experience from having played the game all over the world, and just picks up on simple little things, should it be technique or how you go about playing the game. A lot of us, the guys have gotten results, not necessarily through technically. Technically we can, there are things that you pick up and it makes a big difference within your game. I think that was his strength as a coach. Whoever comes in knows that he has a big role to take on. Simmons has been there for 8 years, a long time. There is going to be a big change, for the players as well. Hope that transition goes very smoothly and looking forward to getting a good coach, and get stuck in. It was great having Simmons here, but it gives him a great opportunity as well to coach his own country, it is a dream for him. Good luck to him as well.

SJ– Obviously the 2015 World Cup was dominated by the ICC’s stand on reducing the number of teams playing the 2019 edition. They have stated, the ICC, that there is a qualifying tournament for the last two sports and the last 2 teams play and the top 8 teams have automatic qualification. You see that as a detrimental move to the grown of cricket, right?

WP– Yes, very much so. obviously, if we didn’t get that opportunity and qualify back in 2007, I don’t think cricket would where it is now in Ireland. It is the fastest growing sport in Ireland. You only have to go back home and take a look at what is happening in the game in Ireland. It is developing at a quick rate. We are in a position to move on.

So, it is very frustrating– not only from our point of view but for anyone who had to qualify for a World Cup- thankfully we have done for the last few years to get the ball rolling back home. The decision to reduce the teams is going to make it very difficult for the tournament to do that. The talk about giving yourself an opportunity to qualify automatically, that is fair but we don’t play enough games to qualify automatically.

SJ– I want to talk about that specific point and I want you to expand a bit more on it. Mr. Richardson has been telling every outlet that if Ireland or Afghanistan were to qualify, were to rise up to the rankings to the 8th rank, they would automatically qualify. Wouldn’t that be – when an ICC associates that tops the boards etc. etc. Could you perhaps explain further on how difficult it is to go from no.11 to no.8 when you don’t play anything regularly against the full member nations?

WP– We played 9 ODIs against top-10 teams in the last 4 years between the World Cusp, which is nothing, just about 2 series. That is much less than what a top-10 nation would play. Even if we had won those 9 games against the opposition we wouldn’t have finished 8th in the world. We have to play more games to get to that stage. Arranging fixtures is very difficult with teams that are around you in the rankings because they are also looking to playing teams that around them as well, teams above them, to move on. obviously it is very difficult for the board to arrange the fixtures. So, anything that can be done to help us get through will be great. To actually finish 8th in the world is not only going to be difficult for us, but for anyone that is around us today, to progress uo to there.

SJ– Regarding teams around you, geographically…England. is it disappointing that it is ECB that has driven that movement towards 10 teams in the 2019 World Cup?

WP– Yes. We play England every other year in ODIs, they are just 40 minute away by flight. We can play a lot more often. Teams tour England a lot. It would be ideal for them – even if not a triangular series –but play us in two or three ODIs before or after playing England. That could be worked inot the schedule pretty easily. That is what we are crying out for. The public in Ireland are crying out for that as well, to see more cricket against the top-10 teams, especially in Ireland. If we can get to that stage where teams touring England, if not too much, can add on fixtures against Ireland; or play us in a triangular series in England. That could be a very viable option that can be explored.

SJ– The fact that England and ECB that is pushing the 10-team World Cup which possibly could mean that you have already played your last World Cup for Ireland at the age of 30 – that decision could be taken out of your hands.

WP– It is very frustrating. It is sad when you look at it like that. You look at various countries around the world, either playing or wanting an opportunity to qualify. From a personal point of view, and from an Irish point of view, that will be a very disappointing thing especially in a World Cup so close to home in 2019. If we qualify for that we would sell out grounds and at least get 75-80% Irish to fill the stadium especially when it is just across the waters. From marketing point of view, it makes sense to have more teams especially us being so close to England.

SJ– There is another question for you from Nicholas Sharlond – he was the one that started the petition for ICC to expand further back to 14 rather than 10 for 2019 World Cup. His question to you, William, is would you support an associate breakaway from the ICC to get cricket into the Olympics?

WP– That is an interesting one. Cricket in the Olympics has been talked about before, especially in the T20 format. That would be very good, potentially. If that were to happen, cricket would grow even more. In terms of breakaway, I don’t know if you want to be talking about that. You have to be talking about inclusion. The fact that there is full members, and associates, and affiliates – different names and structures – that could be one of the things that could be done away with. You have got a ranking system, I don’t see why international teams around the world have to be pigeonholed into different categories and names. I don’t see why we have to be an associate and someone else gets to be a full member. I don’t see why it exists really.

We have shown that we are moving on and breaking through, and we have been beating teams around us and teams above us. Look at the likes of Sri Lanka with players like (Kumar) Sangakkara and (Mahela) Jayawardene of what they said during the world cup that if they didn’t get the opportunity when they did, they wouldn’t have won the World Cup back then. Not saying that would be the case with us as well but that shows what can be done, and we see in all the sports not just cricket. If opportunities are given, then they do that. It is very frustrating that the ICC is reducing teams as opposed to growing the teams in the World Cup. Basically, it would be another glorified Champions Trophy being played every two years.

SJ– That’s true.

There is one more listener question, from Srinath. If you were to make a choice between regular fixtures over four years with full-member nations or a 14 team World Cup in 2019, which one would you take?

WP– I don’t see why it has to be a decision, why can’t it be both? If we get those regular fixtures, through 4 years, we are only going to improve. If we play regular fixtures against the full members in the four years. We are sure we will be able to beat them and show progression. To answer the question, I don’t see why they can’t incorporate both, because I don’t see why they can’t be parceled together. For me, it would be both. It is not an unrealistic option, it is common sense.

SJ– We talked quite a bit about the ODI game for Ireland. You have set out a domestic first class structure, you have won the Intercontinental Cup. A lot of people, and you have definitely wondered too – why Ireland is not playing Test cricket yet. When this new proposal was put in last year, they said that the winner of the Intercontinental Cup will play the 10th ranked Test team and by beating them home and away, you could get to play Test cricket without the rights of a Test playing nation as it exists, without any guarantee of an FTP on that as well. What is your take on that?

WP– I think it is great to have that pathway to Test cricket. There is still some differential between Test cricket and playing a lot more ODI cricket, and putting that structure back home. Test cricket is where everyone wants to be, what every cricketer aspires to play. A lot of things were done over the last year about Test cricket. We are on the pathway towards getting there. If the debate is should we be there as a Test member or not, over the next couple of years we would be there or thereabouts. The pathway is pretty good, and we have some good things in place. The only thing that bothers me is the fact that we don’t play home and away fixtures because there is so much riding on the competition, it is just round robin where you play at someone else’s home. It could have been home and away which would have provided more fair results for anyone’s side. It is a great opportunity for whoever wins the Intercontinental Cup. That is something that we are targeting, it is something that we want to win and get an opportunity to play the 10th ranked team – which is what every Ireland cricketer wants to do now. The pathway has been set now. Hopefully Ireland will be there and we do well when there.

SJ– One last question, William. As you mentioned earlier, 2015 could become your last World Cup if things don’t pan out the way they actually should. You have been a part of 3 World Cup sides, qualifying to the World Cup and to the Super-6 stage and leading your team in the last two, just missing out on the QF in the 2015 World Cup. How would you describe the run that Ireland has had in those three World Cups? And, what is the impact of the so called Golden Generation of Irish Cricketers – including you, (Ed) Joyce, (Trent) Johnston and the O’Brien brothers (Niall and Kevin)? What is their impact on the grassroots of Ireland cricket?

WP– If you look back, even to 2007, we were pretty much an amateur side with a few lads who were playing first class cricket. They were few and far in-between, a lot of lads were 9-5s. We were pretty much an amateur side. That was a fairy tale story, and it took off from there. Irish cricket has come on leaps and bounds since then.

Back home cricket is a passion now. The participation numbers have more than doubled, I don’t know the exact numbers now, but at least 150% increase from 2007 and 2011 as well. You only have to go back to Ireland and speak to anyone about cricket and they love the fact that we are playing such good cricket especially in global events. The game is progressing. The cricketing culture has grown and evolved. It is fantastic. I just really hope it keeps going. For us it is a big thing – playing in the World Cup – and to keep it growing back home. Hope that doesn’t die, as you said.

SJ– And, the ICC is supposed to come up with a decision about 2019 World Cup, even though they have been saying the door is shut on expanding to 14. If you were to say something to Mr. Richardson or Mr. Srinivasan or whoever is chairing the meeting, what would your request be?

WP– Think about the growth of the game. Think about how things that have come for any nation has come through the World Cups. Our story from 2007, how we progressed since then – if we didn’t get that opportunity in 2007, I don’t think where we are today. Look at even Afghanistan’s rise – it is a great story for themselves, for Afghanistan – working their rise through the divisions. That is a cricketing mad part of the world, the South Asia. To see the likes of ourselves and Afghanistan and other nations – Scotland, Holland, even UAE – miss out, after having seen them qualify over the last few years and now not give them the opportunity to qualify to the World Cup, then I think cricket will die out in a lot of countries and we won’t see the development of the game throughout the world, which would be pretty sad.

SJ– Alright! On that note, William, thank you very much for being on the show. I wish you the very best. I hope to see you in the 2019 World Cup too, mate!

WP– Thank you very much!

SJ– Cheers. Bye.


Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman