Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Rankin for England?

A piece of cricket news that has slipped under the radar for many today has been the addition of Warwickshire's Boyd Rankin into the England Lions squad for the rest of their One Day series against Sri Lanka A. On the surface, this may seem a trivial piece of news, but when you realise that this is the same Boyd Rankin who's gone to two World Cups and played 32 ODIs for Ireland, then it suddenly gets a bit more interesting.

Boyd, the big fast bowler from Derry, has had quite a bit of international success so far in his career. Ireland's leading wicket taker at the seminal 2007 World Cup and the leader of the attack in 2011, Rankin is a massive (quite literally, standing at 6ft 8ins) part of the Irish team who have made huge strides in international cricket over the past few years. However, he's been on England's radar for the past couple of years, and it looks as though he's about to follow fellow ex-Irish internationals Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce in turning out for England. A country he isn't from.

I've written before just how much I sympathise with Irish cricketers. Any cricketer, anywhere in the world, wants to play test cricket, and sadly at the moment that's something that isn't offered to Irish cricketers. It's been well publicised that both Joyce and Morgan repatriated themselves in the search for test cricket (Morgan made it, Joyce didn't), and it appears that Rankin is following the same path. However. They'd be representing England despite not being from England, and while hoping to play test cricket certainly is a noble goal, I'd like to play football for Brazil, but as I am not from Brazil, I am not going to realise this ambition. (And it's not because I'm not good enough, because I am...)

The issue of non-English people playing for England is a sticky one. As great as it is that England are flying so high in world cricket at the moment, the fact that Pietersen, Trott, Kieswetter, Dernbach, Morgan and Lumb have got us there does make the whole thing slightly hollow. While I can understand that the lure of test cricket as well as a much more professional structure in English cricket would tempt Boyd Rankin, his would be another name on the list of foreign imports into the English team. Which doesn't quite sit with me.

It's a tough one, and without wanting to sound all David Starkey about it, it shouldn't really be allowed. People have the fortune, or the misfortune, to be born in certain parts of the world, and as such, should represent that nation in international sport. Otherwise it's hardly inter-national, is it? At a time where Ireland could be on the brink of achieving some great things (and as such, need all of the talent they have), Boyd could be turning his back on them to chase his test dream. Ireland are a team who could be on the verge of something big, but how can they progress if their brightest talents abandon them as soon as England flutter their eyelids? On the 25th August, England travel over to Stormont for an ODI against Ireland. It's not inconcievable that with Rankin being named in the Lions squad (effectively a reserve international team) and England's first choice bowlers potentially being rested after a tough Indian test series that Rankin gets picked by England. With test cricket potentially beckoning, if Ireland are able to tempt him to stay with them, it will show the massive strides being made by Cricket Ireland. If they can't, it could open the floodgates for the likes of Stirling, Dockrell and plenty of other young Irish talent who rightly or wrongly fancy a craic at playing for England.

And a quote to show Irish fans that not all of their players want to cross the Irish Sea... Kevin O'Brien: "Play for England? You must be joking! I'm Irish, I want to play for Ireland!"


  1. Will, it is never simple. There are always players who, for whatever reason, have ties to another nation, sometimes they are weak, sometimes they are strong. But if they want to make a commitment to that nation, then I'm not against it, provided it is more than a marriage of convenience, so to speak. Football has this problem too, and they get around it by requiring a player to make their choice and stick with it. Which works (more or less), in football.

    But it doesn't work in cricket, because cricket is elitist and exclusive.

    The current rule actually looks extra unfair, because there is no qualification period to move from Ireland to England (once residency is procured), but there is a 4 year wait to return. But it makes a certain sense, because if Dockrell (or many many other) associate players were made to wait for England, they wouldn't even play for Ireland.

    I doubt any Irish player would play for England if they had test status. Simply because (and football shows this), as a rule a player would rather have the certainty of international selection than the uncertainty of playing for a contender. And in fact you'd start seeing English players of Irish descent popping up here and there too.

    That is not really even a bad thing, because weak teams welcoming strong players evens competition. Whereas the current situation is increasing the gap between teams, strengthening England at the expense of Ireland.

    Rankin moving is a big issue, but not because of Rankin, but because it highlights, again, the inequalities that plague the game and drag it backwards; the absence of test status for 95 of the 105 playing nations, and the gross inequalities regarding access to marquee test competitions that exist even between test nations. That is cricket's biggest issue, even test cricket's supposed malaise is really a symptom of smaller teams not caring about games that are not worth a jot in global terms.

  2. It is a tough one - and we may already be seeing English players with Irish links who've given up on English ambitions 'going the other way' with the news that Tim Murtagh (perhaps amongst others) is reportedly looking at playing for Ireland.

    Test cricket is a huge draw, and it would be interesting to see how an Irish test side featuring Joyce, Morgan, Rankin, the O'Briens etc would do - I'd bet probably just as well as Bangladesh / Zimbabwe. As you say, with the best associate talent able to go and strengthen the established sides (and as such weaken the associate sides) the gap will only increase, but if Rankin, or others, are convinced to stay, it's clear that talent is being produced and the gap would decrease.

  3. Regarding your inclusion of Dernbach in the list of foreign players, didn't he move here with his parents as a kid (according to his Wikipedia page anyway)? I can understand the uneasiness regarding those that have moved to England purely to play cricket for a test-playing nation, but what about immigrants who just happen to play cricket?

    If we're able to accept the latter (and I see no reason why we shouldn't), then how about a system where a player can only play for their county if they've got British citizenship (through birth/residency, not ancestry)? I'm picturing a system where a foreigner who wants to play for England would have to satisfy the government's (increasingly stringent) residency requirement before they even appear on the ECB's radar (which I'm assuming doesn't stretch beyond county level).

    As for the effect of all this on Irish cricket, isn't it up to them to give their players enough incentive not to move to England?

  4. Apoloogies if I've got it wrong about Dernbach - I certainly don't class Strauss and Prior (born in SA but brought up and learnt cricket in England) as part of the foreign legion, and if Dernbach fits this criteria then I've done him a disservice. Sorry Jade.

    The trouble with the residency idea is that it still does open up the situation of a Kieswetter / Trott / Morgan, who were unable to play for England when they first arrived in the country, but after playing a few years of county cricket get picked for England. I think Rankin, who's resided in this country since 2007 qualifies in this way, as did Morgan and Joyce.

    Take your point about Cricket Ireland offering enough incentive to stay - hopefully if one or two 'big names' stay in green then it should be enough of a draw for the others to stay put. However, if the ICC start even mentioning "Ireland" and "test cricket" in the same breath then we'll almost certainly see an end to this switching between nations.