Irish cricket knows the path to progress but defecting players and political issues are holding the sport back on the Irish scene, writes Stephen Devine

Eoin Morgan may be unknown to some, but he is quickly becoming one of the hottest prospects in English cricket. The remarkable fact of this story is that he is a Dubliner, who spent a large portion of his life playing hurling and started his cricketing career with Ireland before switching allegiances. Such moves are not unheard of in the cricketing world: Morgan’s Irish collogue Ed Joyce switched countries in 2005. Indeed, the move seems to have paid dividends for Morgan.

In the past month, former Trinity student Morgan has been awarded an incremental England contract for 2009-10, after his unbeaten match-winning century in Bangladesh. More important, however, in monetary terms was the fact that Morgan was bought in the annual auction for the Indian Premier League. The Dubliner was the only England player to be purchased in the first round, as a host of big names failed to attract the interest of the eight franchises.

Much has been made in Morgan’s short career of hurling’s influence in his batting style. He has become known for an innovative shot in cricket known as a reverse sweep, in which the grip of the bat is just as it is of the hurl. The development raises the question of whether we might see scouts from England sitting beside those from Aussie Rules at GAA grounds, looking for the next Eoin Morgan.

Despite the advances that Morgan has made in the past year, the final step in his career will be to break into the English test team. Morgan has been seen as too inconsistent to play the longer version of the game, an opinion he has being trying to shake over the last season. The small number of opportunities he has to impress at this level may act against him making the step up.

All the positives the moves have had for both Morgan and Joyce are in stark contrast to the effects on Ireland’s progression. If Ireland’s cricket set-up is to improve, it is key that they are able to hold on to their homegrown talent. The fact that Ireland are slowly developing into an academy for England is worrying, and Cricket Ireland must put the necessary structures in place to halt the tide.

The reason for this comes down to the fact that Ireland has yet to be granted Test status by the ICC. Playing test cricket is seen as the pinnacle of any player’s career, and this is the reason cited by the Irish converts. However, obtaining test status is not easily resolved and their inability to get recognised is complicated.

Ireland have consistently beaten the two lowest ranked test teams Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the One-Day International format, and Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom protests that Ireland “have proven ourselves in all forms of the game to be head and shoulders above our rivals – we simply want the ICC to tell us what it is we are required to do.”

Ireland are knocking on the door, but plotting a course from here to the next level poses problems for Cricket Ireland and the ICC for financial, structural and cricketing reasons. Ireland must move forward, though, for standing still will actually mean falling back.