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Leicestershire and Ireland wicket-keeper Niall O'Brien has echoed calls from his country's administrators and team-mates for more exposure to international cricket.
In an interview with www.pakpassion.net, he says he hopes that Ireland will one day play Test cricket and that one way forward could be to set up a two-division Test system.
"We’ve beaten some good teams in the past, but we need to play more consistent international cricket against the big boys and we need to put up more of a fight," he said.
"We didn’t play well in the T20 World Cup - got bowled out for under 150 twice and Australia chased their runs easily. We want more cricket, but we need to play better.
"We’ve got a good team. We would love to have a sustained period of time where we can play plenty of one-day international cricket, T20 cricket and good first-class cricket against the Test sides to see how we’re faring."
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Whereas England played 44 international matches in 2012 and the top players can only expect two months off in 2013, Ireland played just 26 times and that includes Intercontinental Cup games and limited overs matches that weren't full internationals against the likes of Namibia.
"We want to play Test match cricket, but at the moment one or two games a year against top quality opposition, people look for us to test ourselves fully," O'Brien continued.
"Watching Bangladesh and Zimbabwe play Test match cricket or watching New Zealand get bowled out for 45, or whatever they got bowled out for in one Test match, and the week before scoring 82 in the T20. We could be playing cricket and playing a good standard of cricket – I’d be hopeful we wouldn’t be bowled out for 45.
"I am not saying that we’re a better team than New Zealand, but I’m sure we would give the likes of New Zealand, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh a good run for their money if we had them over for a sustained period of time for a three- or five-match series.
"Whether that will happen in my life time, I’m not sure. I hope so, because for Test matches I’ve got the technique, temperament and physical endurance at that level. I’m not saying I am going to average 50 like Sachin Tendulkar, but I am saying I am confident of my ability to score runs at the international level on a regular occurrence. Time will tell. Hopefully, the ICC will do a favour upon us and Ireland will be able to play Test match cricket in the near future."
In a loose sense, there is already a de facto, non formalised two-tier structure to Test cricket - with South Africa, India, England, Australia and occasionally Pakistan or Sri Lanka forming the leading group with New Zealand, the West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh lagging behind.
The creation of a definitive structure in the form of a league system to include Ireland - and perhaps others, such as Afghanistan and Scotland - the three most consistent teams below the Test level, is something that appeals to O'Brien.
"I think two divisions in Test cricket would be a great idea, absolutely. It would bring a competitive edge to every game I feel with promotion and relegation, whatever the case might be.
"I think it would be a great idea, and hopefully it is something the ICC are thinking of and we will get the opportunity to play Test cricket sometime soon."
Until then, Ireland are resigned to losing some of their best players to England. Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan were the first to make the switch (although Joyce has subsequently requalified for Ireland) with Boyd Rankin likely to follow in the near future.
O'Brien, who played alongside Morgan at the 2007 World Cup, where Ireland upset the odds by producing a tie with Zimbabwe and a win over Pakistan, is full of praise for him and understands why he made the switch.
"Eoin (Morgan) is a fantastic talent," O'Brien says. "In my opinion he is England’s best limited-overs batsman and I think it was inevitable he was going to would play for England.
"Yes we’d love to have him play for Ireland, but we can’t supply him with the cricket that would challenge him on a week-to-week basis, that’s the problem. He plays with some of the best and we’re delighted when he does well.
"He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from and is still good friends with many of us, but trying to stop someone playing Test cricket when you can’t offer them Test cricket is a very difficult thing to do."
O'Brien added that he believes that if Test cricket is available to Ireland - even if in the second division of a league structure, then it would stop Irish players deciding to try their hand with England, which would further strengthen the quality of player available to the men in green.
For now, O'Brien is concentrating on Twenty20 cricket and following spells in the Indian Cricket League and Bangladesh Premier League, he is on the verge of playing in the newly-formed Pakistan Super League.
"I’ve been approached to play in the league and provisionally been given the green light to play in it," he revealed.
"Fingers crossed I’ll be able to go and play and see all of the people of Pakistan who have been very friendly towards me down the years since the days we beat Pakistan. Fingers crossed, watch this space."
What do you think? Let us know if you like the idea of two divisions in Test cricket or if Ireland ought to be given a chance against the best on a more regular basis by leaving a comment below.
© Cricket World 2013
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