How to get a tan from standing in the English rain

March 4th, 2011

The “brave” Irish were not meant to do this. They were supposed to be “plucky” and “whole-hearted”, but not win. Yesterday the Ireland cricket team beat England at the Cricket World Cup in Bangalore, India. It was the first time that the Irish had beaten the English at this sport and the first time that England beat Ireland at begrudgery.

With most of the game having been played England were in complete and utter control – at one stage bookmakers were giving Ireland a one in 400 shot of winning. That means that if at that that moment you decided to place a $1 stake on Ireland to win, you would have been $400 richer soon after. At around this time, a man called Kevin O’Brien took his position as Ireland’s next batsman. This is what the Daily Telegraph online live commentary said at the time: “The formidable (not really, he’s just a bit porky) Kevin O’Brien is the new man.”

What was being said here is ‘ok here’s an overweight Irishman, probably had a few pints last night after a big dinner, let’s just do what we’re doing and before you know it we’ve won.’

There have been some very useful overweight cricketers down the years; off the top of my head I can think of Graham Gooch and Inzamam ul-Haq. Their “porkiness” was seen as advantage. O’Brien’s “porkiness”, on the other hand, is seen as a hindrance. It’s there in black and white: “formidable (not really)”. It is clear that a large section of the English sports media does not treat the Irish as they would the established cricket nations. Never lacking in bravery or pluckiness, whatever that is, but rarely will you hear or read that such and such an Irish player is actually able to compete in terms of technique or intelligence, only endevour. O’Brien won the match by mocking England not with words but with skill, intelligence, effort and, perhaps most importantly, humility. In the post-match interview, former England captain Michael Atherton asked if he would celebrate with “a few pints of Guinness” after “chancing his arm”. Old mentalities die hard. Or not at all.

That same motif carried into the next day on cricinfo.com, the most viewed cricket site on the internet. In an article that referred to the fact that Ireland will most likely not be allowed to compete at the next World Cup in 2015, Brydon Coverdale wrote: “the Irish players could be watching the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand from a pub in Dublin, with pints of Guinness in hand.”

When Russia failed to qualify for the football World Cup, did journalists write ‘well they’ll all be at home necking bottles of vodka’? Or when the US don’t qualify for something, do we read that they’ll find solace in a corner of McDonald’s? Or how about when Iran is not present at some sporting event? Do journalists write that at least they’ll be able to take part in a public stoning? Of course not. But it’s perfectly alright to call the Irish team overweight, unfit and too fond of the drink.

A common accusation from many English media outlets is that, like the football team of the early 1990s, this Irish cricket team is a bunch of has-been and never-will-be mercenaries from the southern hemisphere. Out of the 11 Ireland players yesterday, 10 were Irish-born. Out of the 11 England players, four were born in South Africa and, had Eoin Morgan been fit, 11 Irish players would have played and only six English. It’s Hungary and 1953 all over again. Only the names have changed, the attitude stays the same.