“Ireland has a cricket team?” A new friend and Dublin native asks incredulously when she hears we had spent the day watching an Ireland v Scotland One-Day International. She thinks for a moment. “Well… Did we win?”
My seat at the Malahide Cricket Club is within spitting distance of the ground. My feet are inches from the boundary rope, which is thick and fraying. It looks like it belongs on an old ship, pulling up the anchor. Instead, it encircles a vibrant patch of green, surrounded by a scattering of wizened old trees and a stonewall. We sit on folding chairs along the edges while a precarious bit of scaffolding holds a cameraman up for a better view.
It is perfect weather, fluffy clouds dot the sky and the sunlight cascades down, drying up the morning dew. It feels warm and sleepy. A small coffee stand towed in on the back of a van opens up, and the sounds of steaming milk and tap of the espresso tamper echo across the field. The crowd is sparse — even an intramural football game probably gets more viewers, just of parents alone. This may not speak well for the future of cricket in Ireland, but it creates an intimate setting that makes me feel special, like I’m part of a secret club.
The match is exciting to watch from this close — the sounds echo and I can hear the thick “thock” of the ball coming off the bat. It also forces me to pay attention, as a stray ball could easily bean me in the head the moment I look away. It turns out –wonder of wonders — that paying attention means you actually know what is happening. It is exciting, and the crowd, though small, is responsive. When the bowler who has taken a wicket next approaches the boundary, everyone applauds, regardless of which side they are supporting.
We watch two of the three games, which each have one day off in between. Arriving for the second ODI feels like coming home, as we greet the same few people who watched with us the first time again. To the right is a family from Scotland who have flown in just to watch the match. To the left, a father and son from Dublin. I ask when they became interested in cricket and am surprised to learn it was only ten years ago. Most people I pose this question to can’t remember a time when they didn’t love cricket, as if it was as obvious and natural as taking their first steps.
Despite everything said about the rain in Ireland, the day is hot, almost scorching at high noon, and during the lunch break I slither under the pitch cover lounging nearby. The air underneath is cool and I curl up in the shade, watching the feet of other fans as they walk by. It is the perfect spot, and it matches exactly the feel of the day — cozy and secluded. I am nestled in the protection of the pitch cover as Malahide Cricket Club is nestled in the city of Dublin, surrounded by people who walk right by, not even knowing it exists.
From my place under the pitch cover, I watched the day unfold– children playing in the nets nearby with a tennis ball and plastic bat, old men sipping amber-coloured beer at picnic tables, fans leaning anxiously forward in their chairs, eyes on the action. My hideout under the cover is nice, but I find that suddenly what I want most is to belong to the group outside — to share drinks and trade old match stories, talk about the players as if they belong to us.
The next evening, we attend a Wisden Quarterly The Nightwatchman XI event at a local club. A panel of experts meets to discuss the current state of Irish cricket, and Irish cricket writer Ger Siggins’s documentary “Batmen: The Story of Irish Cricket” is shown. Red velvet couches have replaced the seats in the auditorium, and candles flicker on small tables scattered throughout. We order Guinness and Bulmer’s cider and listen to the panel’s thoughts on the current Ireland team, their position in the ICC, Ireland’s quest to play Test cricket, and how to keep the desire and interest going in cricket for the next generation.
Just like at the match itself, there is an intimacy to the room. There is this feeling of David, cricket lover, meeting a Goliath who has never heard of it before. The audience is animated, passionate, and caught in a web of politics that go back hundreds of years.
If there is one thing I learned during our time in Ireland, it is that the country is built on perseverance, and creating life and joy in the face of great adversity. I have no doubt that cricket will continue to grow as it has even in the last decade, and that these people who shared their dreams with us will see them realised someday. I look forward to that day, when they see the rewards for their efforts, but I must say I am glad to have been there now, an honorary member of a small secret club nestled among the trees and the moss-covered stone walls of Dublin.