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'We have to make sure Rankin is the last Irishman to play for England'
Excerpts from the interview
Subash Jayaraman: You retired from international cricket last month and you have already jumped headlong into two coaching assignments. Generally people take a break before they start their coaching or media careers. How come you didn't do any of that?
Trent Johnston: I suppose I did take a little break. I finished on the 15th of December and flew to Australia, where I am from. I spent nearly four weeks over there, spending Christmas with family. I was obviously looking to spend a bit more time there, but the [women's tri-series] tournament was up for the [Ireland] girls here in Qatar, so I cut that short. The priorities change and I look forward to getting stuck in.
SJ: Even when you were playing, were you of the opinion that you were going to end up as a coach, or did you have other plans in mind as well?
TJ: I think you have more than one set plan because you don't know what is going to happen. I have been very lucky with what cricket has given me over the last ten years. I have been able to go to five World Cups and captain Ireland 60 times. I thought it was only right that I stayed involved and tried to give something back to Ireland.
Coaching was the highest priority. I made that quite clear to the powers to be in Cricket Ireland - that I wanted to stay involved and give something back to the cricketing community over there. I was lucky the position for the ladies team's job came up.
I am also looking after the fast bowlers at the newly formed National Cricket Academy, and I am coaching one of the provincial teams there. I am going to be quite busy, but it is a good mixture of work.
SJ: In your time representing Ireland, cricket has come a long way, not just in terms of on-field performances but also the organisation, the development of the game at the grass roots in Ireland.
TJ: Absolutely! I remember it coming over full-time in 2004. Our team had a full-time coach, a CEO, a lady part-time in the reception and a handful of volunteers. Now, throw in the players contracts, there could be 50-60 people employed by Cricket Ireland across the country. It is an amazing improvement in ten years. It comes about from the success of the teams on the field, especially the men's team. They generate a lot of income and perform very well over the times they have been involved in the World Cup. They have been the dominant Associate country for so many years now that it has given Cricket Ireland an opportunity to expand. Being in Ireland, it is not really a No. 1 sport over there, but it is slightly getting better. It is giving us an opportunity to spread our wings and develop our game.
SJ: I want to talk about the two most remembered on-field accomplishments during your tenure with Ireland cricket. One is beating Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup and the other is beating England in the 2011 World Cup. Which one was sweeter? I guess putting one over the old enemy?
TJ: Yes, absolutely. That was a pretty special day. We didn't start the game very well. [Kevin] Pietersen and [Andrew] Strauss got off to a fairly decent start. We pegged them back in the last ten overs. I think they got 6 for 60 in the last ten. We contained them well to the total they got. Then we had a bit of a disastrous start, with captain William Porterfield out to the first ball and we were 110 for 5. I suppose one knows what happened after that - Kevin O'Brien smashed the fastest World Cup hundred. The guy at the other end, Alex Cusack, supported him very well. He got 60 runs off 60 balls [47 off 58]. John Mooney, who is a very proud Irishman, I was lucky enough to be out there with him when he hit the winning runs. It was certainly a very special day.
Not just the Pakistan game, but the whole seven-week journey we had there [in the Caribbean in 2007] was quite amazing. That was the start. To be a part of that team, to be the captain of that team and to hit the winning runs of that game - to beat Pakistan on St Patrick's Day in Jamaica was a really special achievement, and they are great memories to think about.
SJ: Listener Yogesh asks: What was the thought within the team and in your head as captain going into the match against Pakistan and what was the feeling after the win?
TJ: Going into the game we were pretty confident, because two days before, we played Zimbabwe and tied the game. That was a sort of ebb-and-flow game. We lost, then won and then ended up tying it. It gave us great confidence and belief that we belong here.
We were always very confident as a squad, we had a fairly good draw: the host nation; Pakistan, who on their day could have had 450 against us; and Zimbabwe. At that time they were pretty beatable.
Going into the Pakistan game, we saw the pitch quite green. I hadn't seen that sort of a wicket throughout the whole tournament. Maybe our incoming coach, Phil Simmons, had something to do with that. Maybe he spoke to a few groundsmen and said, "Let's get a green wicket for the lads." That gave us confidence, because we are used to playing on green wickets. That is what we play on in Ireland week in week out, with the ball moving around.
"We are seen as a potential banana skin, and even the likes of Afghanistan. As the two top Associate teams, we are capable of beating the Full Member teams and they are quite wary of playing us"
Luckily I won the toss and put them in. Big Boyd Rankin and David Langford-Smith did a great job and got early wickets. We got wickets consistently throughout the innings. That is the key in ODI cricket - to stop the run rate, especially if you are a lower team against the big boys, you have to keep taking wickets, because as soon as they string a partnership, they put you to bed.
SJ: So you bowled Pakistan out for 132 and now you have a very gettable total. You had a shaky start and Niall O'Brien basically pitches his tent. Finally you come in and finish the game off.
TJ: I suppose the dressing room was very realistic. If you look at the Pakistan team, the bowlers they had - [Abdul] Razzaq, [Azhar] Mahmood, [Mohammad] Sami - if we could bowl them out for 132, they could bowl us out for 80. We knew we had to get in there and fight, because their bowlers were a lot quicker than us. They were moving the ball around just as much as we did.
We lost a few early wickets. Niall got 70-odd. Kevin got 10 off 60 balls - that is a sign of how difficult the wicket was and how good the bowling was. To come in and get a nice little slower ball that I could pick up off Azhar and slog that over midwicket was the cue to some great celebrations. Really good memories indeed.
SJ: You mentioned Boyd Rankin. [Eoin] Morgan was there too. Now they are playing for England, so is Ed Joyce. What is your take on that? Ireland spends all this effort, time and money and gets them up to speed and gives them all the opportunities and then England takes them all.
TJ: It's not good. I don't like it, but you can't blame the players. The players want to play Test match cricket. They want to play ODI cricket, a lot of ODI cricket. At present we are the top Associate country and we can't give them Test cricket. We play three or four Full Members a year. When you are playing as a Full Member, you are playing about 25-30 ODIs a year. We are trying to give them international exposure. We have got to understand that it is these guys' career. We are slightly chipping away and hoping that we can get the ICC to come on board and take our application into being the 11th Full Member. We have to make sure that Boyd is the last Irishman to play for England.
SJ: Warren Deutrom, the CEO of Cricket Ireland, said the goal is for Ireland to play Test cricket by 2020. Will that be too late for someone like George Dockrell or Paul Stirling?
TJ: I think that is a question only they can answer. That is six years away. That's where we want to be - as a Test-playing country. There is no reason why we cannot play before that. It is about what we have to do at our level - win all the games and prove to the ICC that we have it in us to be in the next level.
The guys in the office are doing everything they can to get the things and procedures in place. There is a certain amount of criteria you have to meet before becoming a Full Member. Only last year we started inter-provincial cricket. We have the best 45 players around the country playing in three provincial teams against each other in multi-day cricket, 50- and 20-over cricket. That is a great step in the right direction and that is going to continue in the coming years.
This will be the first year for the academy, which is another great move to identify young talent coming into the game and to give them a certain amount of what the senior men or women's teams have. To expose those cricketers to specialised coaching, dietary and physio programmes, Cricket Ireland is going in the right direction. It is going to take a long process and there is going to be a lot of lobbying from the gents in the office to convince the other Full Members that we do warrant to be at the top table.
SJ: What can Ireland do in the meantime to keep the players in Ireland rather than going to England?
TJ: It is a difficult one, because if you are not a contracted player and you want to make cricket your livelihood and county cricket comes knocking on your door, you are going to take that opportunity.
With the national academy starting up there is going to be an elite programme for elite players. They will get specific programmes on nutrition, exposure to high-class coaching, potentially going away on tour as Ireland's National Academy. There are three female inductees in the first year. We have to give newcomers a plan when going from club cricket to international cricket. They have to go from club cricket to provincial cricket, national academy, through to the A team and the senior men's team; and the same pattern for the ladies team. The structure is slowly being put in place.
SJ: What are your views and your mates' views on ICC and the Full Member nations' disinclination to expand the list from ten players and include Ireland?
TJ: We don't have a massive population to be attractive to the ICC. They would like to expand a lot more in places like China and the USA. But we are a very proud nation. Every time we play a Full Member, we have to beat them. Eventually they will have to say that Ireland as cricketing nation is very good and we can't ignore them anymore. The more games we get against the Full Members, the better we are going to be.
Then it goes back to your previous point - stop the kids going from the Irish set-up to the English set-up. You tell them that last year you played ten Full Members. Going forward, we are going to play 15. They have the exposure to top-flight cricket. Every time you are out there, you have to win the games. The squad is very aware of that, the pressure associated with that, and they have held up quite well so far.
SJ: You see some Full Member nations not doing as much as they should but still reaping the benefits, and you are outside looking in. That must be frustrating.
TJ: It probably is. My theory on that is that we have to work harder and continue to prove people wrong. They are all hoping Ireland go down to playing just two or three games an year, not be an Associate powerhouse knocking down the door time and again. We have to prove those people wrong. Last year we played England and that was the first time we had 10,000 people at our new home ground in Malahide, just outside of Dublin. That was the best day I've had being associated with Ireland cricket. You talk about the Caribbean, about being in India, having 10,000 Irish supporting you around the boundary on a beautiful day. We want to give the cricketing public in Ireland more days like that.
There is a huge amount of money in TV rights and deals that you get when you are an ICC Full Member nation. Of course we would like more of a piece of that pie, but there is still a long way for development of the game in Ireland. If we can get some sort of money like that, we can get all our players back from county cricket, we can create a fantastic first-class structure in Ireland. Currently our national captain plays for Warwickshire. Two of our top wicketkeepers, one is in Surrey and the other in Leicester. Our best batsman is the captain at Sussex. We want them back in Ireland, to drive the first-class structure there.
SJ: After you beat England in the 2011 World Cup, it was originally announced that no Associate nations would be a part of the 2015 World Cup. The ICC had to be shamed into changing that decision. When that sort of thing happens, what do you, as a top Associate nation, think?
TJ: It is disappointing. It was a hollow day when that was announced. Not just for us or Afghanistan or Netherlands, but 95 Associate and Affiliate countries that have dreams of going to a World Cup. How can you call it a World Cup with just ten teams playing in it?
The decision had to be changed and I am glad it was. They obviously got an idea that we are seen as a potential banana skin, and even the likes of Afghanistan, who have a very good team and will be competitive in the World Cups, and definitely in Australia. Us as the two top Associate teams, we are capable of beating the Full Member teams and they are quite wary of playing us. I can totally understand that.
The 2019 [World Cup] is going to be a totally different animal, because you have to be ranked in the top ten to play in the World Cup. Are Bangladesh and Pakistan going to want to play Ireland and Afghanistan and Netherlands? Because if we beat them, we jump ahead of them in the rankings.
SJ: Was there any thought in your mind of extending your playing career to play in the World Cup back home in Australia?
TJ: No, that is unfortunately too far away. I am quite happy with my decision. My body has done well to last this long. I will be 40 in April. I made the decision in March , sat down with my wife and said this was it. I had a goal to get through the year and I was happy with that. We played the five-day [Intercontinental Cup] final against Afghanistan and I couldn't play the last day because my Achilles had been giving me trouble for the last 18 months.
I am just happy that my contributions can take the guys to another World Cup. We got the ICC Intercontinental Trophy back. I grew up playing multi-day cricket in Australia and to win that four times out of six attempts was big. To have that trophy back in the cupboard was the final piece in the pie. I may have, at some stage, thought of going to Bangladesh [for the World Twenty20], but I'm happy now with what I am doing. It is time to start the next stage of my life and I am looking forward to it.
SJ: What do you see to be the ideal, realistic scenario for Ireland cricket in the next two to three years and the next seven to eight years?
TJ: Realistically, I think we can and will become a Full Member. I think that is very achievable. A lot of things have to be put in place. That is a longer-term goal. In the two-to-three-year span, we have two World Cups. T20 cricket is the form of the game where the lesser strong teams can come back.
In 2009, we beat Bangladesh and went into the Super Eights and were very close to beating Sri Lanka, and we did very well against Pakistan in that particular tournament. In the 2010 World Twenty20, we were chasing 120-odd against England and were 1 for 10 after two overs and it rained. England went on to win that World Cup. In 2012, we lost our first game against Australia, who played pretty well in that tournament. We played West Indies after that, and it rained. West Indies went on to win the tournament. I am not saying we would have won the World Cups, but rain hasn't done us any favours over the years. The T20 format is something that we are good at, something that we are quite comfortable playing and enjoy playing. The strength and depth is good in players who have grown up playing one-day cricket.
This World Twenty20 is massive for us, even though it is going to be difficult to get through the main draw. Anything is possible if we go to the knockout stage. We have that and the 2015 World Cup. A lot of the guys here have played in Australia and know what is going on there. I am pretty sure Cricket Ireland will have a couple of tours there and will be in the mix. They will be very well prepared to play in that. In the short-term, to perform very well and keep winning games in World Cups, try and get to quarter-finals and semi-finals, knocking out a few Full Members and make them sit up and take notice again.
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Subash's introduction to cricket began with enduring sledging from his brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. His fascination with the game took hold in 1983, but mostly it was the cricket commentary over All India Radio, about the water-tight front-foot defence of Gavaskar that did it. @thecricketcouch