Friday, 31 May 2013

Boyd's call-up continues to Rankle

There are two sides to the news that Boyd Rankin has been called up to the England ODI squad for the remaining two two games of the series, and they are divided by the Irish Sea. This is not the first time an Irish international has been called up to the England side, but it comes at a key moment in Irish cricketing history. But first, let's look at the short term of Boyd Rankin being picked for England.

First and foremost, Rankin being picked for the England team comes as a bit of a surprise. Not because he isn't good enough, because his height and bounce, plus his reasonable ODI record for a supposed weaker nation prove that he very much is an international player, but the fact that he's been fast-tracked up the pecking-order so quickly will leave a few others feeling a tad miffed. Rankin may have been but an injury away from a test call-up in early 2012, but a difficult 2012 season saw him going backwards in the selectors thoughts, to the extent that he didn't even make the England Lions squad for their winter tours, with Matt Coles, Stuart Meaker, Toby Roland-Jones, Reece Topley, Chris Wright and James Harris being preferred, with Harris even getting a call-up into the full England squad for the ODI tour to New Zealand. Roland-Jones, Wright and Graham Onions led the Lions' seam attack against New Zealand earlier this month, with Rankin nowhere in sight. Yet suddenly, from almost completely off the radar, he's been parachuted in after injury has ruled out Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, and Roland-Jones, Wright, Harris and Meaker very much have the right to feel aggrieved.

On the face of it, the decision seems sound. Broad and Finn are both tall men, and without them the England attack lacks that X-Factor that a tall, steepling quick can bring. Rankin very much brings that to the table, and the added international experience over his counterparts will also have counted in his favour. What those rivals will not be so happy about, however, is the county from which Rankin has been selected. While as county champions it's only fair that are large pool of players are being selected from Warwickshire, but in Ashley Giles' short reign as limited overs coach he's pushed forward Chris Woakes and now Boyd Rankin to England colours. Rankin becomes the fourth Warwickshire Bear in the current ODI squad, and while there is no suggestion of anything underhand, the accusations of favouritism will only grow stronger, leaving those waiting in the wings bemoaning the close relationship between Giles and his former charges at Edgbaston.

The other side to the story lies a short hop over the water, where yet another Irish player has been vindicated in his decision to turn his back on his parent country by being called up by England. Cricket in Ireland has never been so healthy, and after two fantastic ODIs against Pakistan last week, where they lost the series by the narrowest of margins after a tie and a two-wicket defeat, the only downside is that had Eoin Morgan and Rankin been added to that side, Ireland should currently be celebrating their first series victory over a test-playing nation at home. Something is clearly going right in Ireland, as without the huge bank balances and TV deals that England, and other nations possess, they are finding and creating a group of very talented players who are going toe to toe with some of the world's best players. However, the worry for Ireland is that whenever they do produce a world-class player, he is but a few good performances away from his head being turned by the lure of fame, fortune, and test cricket in England. How can Ireland expect to compete and improve when their best talent is at constant threat of being taken from them by a country that's shown they have no qualms in doing so?

The first thing Ireland can ask for is help from the ICC. First and foremost, a law that prevents an Irish player switching to English nationality at the drop of a hat is absolutely paramount. The laws have nothing in them that could have prevented Rankin playing for Ireland yesterday before being whisked away to play for England tomorrow, but they do prevent the opposite, with him potentially having to wait for four years after his last England appearance before changing back to the boys in green (see Ed Joyce). This rule is completely backward, protecting the bigger boys ahead of the small associates (which really isn't like the ICC at all) and should be remedied as quickly as possible, if nothing else, to stop the likes of Rankin and Morgan from switching so readily. Ideally, a rule that outlaws players playing cricket for two nations at all would be introduced, but given the intricacies of employment law, this may not be feasible. Nevertheless, we could see a situation in the next ODI where Morgan, Rankin (Ireland and England) and Luke Ronchi (Australia and New Zealand) have all represented two cricketing nations, which plainly just is not right.

More importantly for Ireland, however, is making sure that the pull to leave is outweighed by the rewards of staying. Ireland have targeted test cricket by 2020, and with central contracts bought in, an improved national four-day set-up and improved performances against established nations, it would be hard to argue that they wouldn't be as deserving as Zimbabwe or Bangladesh for test status, with Ireland probably being more competitive in test matches than those ranked nine and ten in the rankings. Test cricket is said to be the primary motivation behind the switches of Morgan, Rankin and Joyce, and if the ICC could give some indication that it could even be a remote possibility, this could be enough to encourage the next batch of promising youngsters to stay. In the meantime however, regular ODI series against the test-playing nations will have to suffice, like the one just gone against Pakistan, and the key is to ensure that the one/two-off matches are turned into three or five game series. Packed houses like the ones seen at Clontarf and the possibilities of upsets might well be enough to keep hold of the likes of Stirling, Dockrell and Sorensen, who could already be on England's radar, and Ireland, with the support of the ICC and other cricketing nations need to be able to offer that to them on a regular basis.

In an odd way, the call-up of Rankin to England's ODI squad may prove to be the best news possible for Irish cricket at the moment. Rankin's long-term injuries meant he would only be able to appear sporadically in green anyway, but him being picked by England shows the cricketing world that a) Ireland are capable of producing world-class players and b) they need support in being able to keep hold of them. If he performs well in England colours, this only adds to their claims. Another man who'll be hoping that Rankin performs is Ashley Giles, as plenty of aggression, hostility, steep bounce and wickets would justify Rankin's selection to those who are accusing him of only looking to further the careers of those he's coached before.

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