Ireland’s Ciara Metcalfe – leg-spinner, coach and co-star of YouTube duo Hairy and Brains – speaks to Jake Perry.
The ICC World T20 in November is sure to bring mixed emotions for Ireland. Joy at participating in their third WWT20 will be tempered by the understanding that it will be the last hurrah for two of their greatest-ever servants, but as Clare Shillington and Ciara Metcalfe leave the international stage they will do so in the knowledge that Irish cricket has never been better placed.
The Global Qualifier in the Netherlands, which saw Bangladesh and Ireland secure the two remaining places in the West Indies, also brought a notable personal landmark for Ciara as she notched up her hundredth wicket for Ireland. Ranked twentieth in the ICC T20 bowling rankings and with a century of international wickets in sight, too, the thirty-eight-year-old leg-spinner is determined to end her nineteen-year playing career on a high.
“It’s taken a long time for me to get to this point,” she said. “When I started out we were playing maybe one game a year, three at most, which is something I don’t think the younger players today necessarily realise. Now these kids are playing so much cricket they’ll be catching me up at the age of nineteen or twenty!
“But it was a lovely milestone for me to reach. It was in the game [against Uganda] we needed to win as well so it all came together at the right time for the team too.”
After a one-off T20I and three-match ODI series against New Zealand, Ireland had completed their preparations for the Global Qualifier with a closely-contested T20I series against Bangladesh. That four of Ireland’s five bowlers in the first ODI against New Zealand were aged seventeen or under, says Ciara, bodes well for Irish cricket in the years to come.
“Having New Zealand and then Bangladesh over was really good for us,” she said. “There was a lot of quality learning for what was a very young team and although the results didn’t go our way for the most part the games will stand the youngsters in very good stead for the future.
“Against Bangladesh we finally got over the line in the third game after they had got away from us in the first two. That was really good because in winning that we peaked as we were going into the [WWT20Q] instead of before it.”
After going unbeaten in the group stages in Holland, Ireland beat PNG in the Semi-Final before losing to Bangladesh by 25 runs to finish as tournament runners-up.
“We had a nicely balanced team in the Netherlands, a mixture of older players coming back in alongside the youngsters,” said Ciara. “I actually think we put out one of the strongest teams we’ve seen in an Irish jersey for a long time.
“We played well although every game still gave us bits and pieces to work on. I don’t think we fired in all departments in every game and then in the Final I felt that we let Bangladesh win to be honest.
“We were in a great position having kept them to 125 or thereabouts but then we had a lot of soft wickets. Whether it was just the occasion, trying too hard to get over the final hurdle, I don’t know, but what was most important was that the job was done and we achieved our main goal which was qualification.”
Although the final places at the WWT20 were secured by the only two Full Member nations competing in the Netherlands, Uganda’s defeat of Zimbabwe in the Africa Qualifier, coupled with Thailand’s recent victory over Sri Lanka, provide evidence of an increasingly competitive international landscape. When it comes to those at the top of the tree, however, Ciara feels that the distance between the ‘best’ and ‘the rest’ is becoming ever more pronounced.
“It’s a hard one,” she said. “There have been some eye-catching results recently, but I’d say the gap is getting bigger when it comes to the top four or five teams.
“The standard that their players are able to play at consistently with the KSL, BBL and so on makes a huge difference. Having the same players playing against each other with top-level coaching all of the time has pushed them on even further. That’s my view anyway.
“I have always believed that teams like Uganda and PNG are just a money load away from being really good teams,” she continued. “We turn up to things like the World Cup Qualifier having no idea about a lot of the teams we’ll be facing, and if they get someone to invest in them they can turn up to a tournament like that and cause a surprise. Teams like that, they can play cricket, they just don’t have the structure and everything else behind them yet.
“Speaking about ourselves, with a little more structural change and a bit more investment we can definitely compete with the likes of Sri Lanka and Pakistan,” she went on. “I’m hoping that with Full Membership there’ll be some more money available which can support us in different ways.
“In time we will have to go down the central contract route. It won’t be in my time but I’m definitely one of the people who will still be around on the coaching side. It would make such a difference. We’d be up there with Pakistan and Sri Lanka straight away.”
Although Ireland’s elevation to Full Member status was marked by a men’s Test against Pakistan, Ciara was a member of the first Irish side to play Test cricket. At Dublin’s College Park she took 4 for 42 in the first innings as Pakistan were defeated by an innings and 54 runs in July 2000.
“When we played we thought it would be the first of many, but then it was forgotten about,” said Ciara. “Because of the way women’s cricket has shaped up over the last couple of years Test cricket hasn’t been on many people’s minds, so looking back it was definitely a special occasion to be a part of.
“It shows how far they have come. Pakistan were so far behind at that time but now they’ve overtaken us.”
For now, though, Ciara is looking forward to writing the final chapter of what has been an outstanding international career.
“Clare and I both said that the game against Bangladesh was our last home game and I think I can speak for both of us in saying that yes, the World T20 will be our farewell. It’ll be an emotional time, but it won’t be the last of Hairy and Brains!”
Jake Perry is a cricket writer based in Scotland.