Ireland’s cricketers join the big league The Big Picture

Ireland’s cricketers join the big league

It’s been more than a decade in the planning, but Ireland’s men’s cricket team has finally been promoted to test status. A testament to all the hard work put in over the years by everyone associated with the squad, it is the crowning glory of veteran skipper Ed Joyce’s remarkable career. By Nick Royle.

As a schoolboy, Joyce used to hide his cricket bag on the Dublin train he took to training, because he feared being beaten up for playing such an English sport. But so much has changed since that time and cricket, once one of the nation’s most popular sports, has gained widespread acceptance with the Irish public once again.

Much of that transformation can be attributed to the efforts of the current squad and their immediate predecessors. When Ireland's largely-amateur team beat Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup in Jamaica, they set in motion a chain of events that culminated in their promotion to test status in June following a meeting of the sport's governing body, the International Cricket Council, in London. It is a remarkable achievement.

Now that once-nervous schoolboy Joyce is the figurehead for Ireland's unlikely elevation to the elite of world cricket. It is an accolade that has been well-earned for Joyce has served as a trailblazer for a whole generation of Irish cricketers, including England's current ODI captain, Eoin Morgan, who have successfully plied their trade with English county sides.


Like Morgan, Joyce has played cricket for both England and Ireland. However, while Morgan has tasted test match cricket, it is the one achievement missing from Joyce’s CV. He played for England in the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies after being selected for the ill-fated 2006-07 Ashes series, but failed to make the test team in a series that saw the Andrew Flintoff-led England trounced 5-0 by the Aussies. It prompted him to renew his allegiance to his country of birth and he duly represented Ireland in the 2011 World Cup.

Last hurrah


It appeared that test cricket would elude him, however. But then came the long-awaited announcement last month and the chance of a last hurrah. Few would argue that he doesn’t deserve it. Cricket Ireland want to make their first test match a marquee occasion, and are considering inviting Pakistan to play in Dublin or Belfast in May next year.

The irony is that Joyce, who turns 39 in September, may not be fit enough to play as he continues to struggle with chronic knee and hip problems. “If this carrot wasn't there, I'd almost certainly stop playing at the end of this season,” he reveals. “And it is not a foregone conclusion, now that we have test status, that I will carry on playing. The knee isn't great, lots of other things are hurting, and my body is telling me to stop. To keep going is a big ask.”


Joyce remembers his near-brush with test cricket in Australia over a decade ago where he was called up as late replacement to the Ashes squad. “The second day I was there, it was the first day of the Brisbane test,” he explains. “I was twelfth man for the game, and my abiding memory is of coming back to the changing room after delivering the drinks, opening the door and seeing that famous Steve Harmison delivery that went so wide it ended up going to Andrew Flintoff at second slip.

“It wasn't great to be part of a squad that lost an Ashes series 5-0, and it never felt like I would get a game even though the team was getting beaten badly, but it was still a great buzz to be part of.”

Return

Joyce returned to play cricket for Ireland in 2011 and, despite being told that he would have been called up to the England test side in 2013, he feels it was the right decision for him. “It felt the right thing to go and play for Ireland – it wasn't because I wasn't going to play test cricket for England. In 2011, I felt I only had two years left following a big hip operation, and I wanted to play for Ireland again before I finished,” he says.


Does he regret missing out on that test call-up in 2013? “I was playing really well, and I got a really good hundred against Stuart Broad and a very good Nottinghamshire side,” he adds. “England were searching around for an opening batsman, and I was playing the best of anyone in county cricket. But I don't feel I missed out, not at all.”

Joyce left Sussex and opted to return to Ireland last year. It meant a substantial pay-cut estimated at €100,000 to sign a full-time Cricket Ireland contract and play inter-provincial cricket for Leinster Lightning. He hopes that his aching body will keep going for one more year, and that he will be fit enough to take the field as the elder statesman of Irish cricket in their first test match, whenever that may be. “The prospect of test cricket is the only thing keeping me going," he says with a smile.

Let’s hope that this great servant of Irish cricket gets to realise his dream soon.

Images: Getty

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