Retirement should prolong career - Rankin
Boyd Rankin has admitted feeling guilty about ending his Ireland international career but insisted that he had little option but to cut down his playing commitments if he was to have any hope of sustaining a career in the game.
The door for a return is open, however, with Rankin allowing himself two or three years in which to fulfil his ambition of playing for England before considering a return for Ireland.
Rankin, described by Marcus Trescothick as among the best bowlers he faced in 2011, came close to an England call-up during the winter tour of the UAE. With Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan both forced to return home due to injury, the England management were considering sending for Rankin, then on the Lions tour of Sri Lanka, only for injury to scupper his chances.
Such episodes have been far from uncommon in Rankin's career. When fit, the 6ft 7in Irishman has the pace, bounce and hostility to trouble the best but his progress has been hampered by a series of injury setbacks, the latest of which - a stress fracture in the foot - proved to be the catalyst for a review of his obligations.
Finally, after much reflection, Rankin came to the conclusion that if he was to fulfil his ambition of playing the game to the highest level, he had to give up an Ireland career that has seen him play 37 ODIs and 12 T20Is and concentrate on representing England in Test cricket.
"I've been thinking about the decision to retire from Ireland for three months," Rankin told ESPNcricinfo. "It had just become difficult to play that amount of cricket. The injury I had - an injury that I probably picked up from playing so much cricket - had really set me back. It made it all hit home: I can't physically keep playing the amount of cricket I'm playing or I'll end up not playing at all. This decision should prolong my career."
It only takes a glance at Rankin's record to understand both his potential and his problems. He has an outstanding strike-rate of a wicket every 45.7 deliveries in first-class cricket - a record that places him high among contemporary fast bowlers - but, aged 28, he has been limited to just 51 first-class matches in his career, with injury interrupting his progress at regular intervals.
Such were Rankin's injury problems that he faced the prospect of losing his county deal if he refused to turn his back on Ireland. Warwickshire offered a lucrative three-year contract but only on the condition that Rankin retired from Ireland duty. Several other counties made enquiries into his services, but all of them were similarly concerned by his long-term fitness issues.
"There were a few other clubs interested," Rankin said. "But the first question that kept cropping up was, 'Are you still going to play for Ireland?' I think I would have been in the same situation wherever I went. I would have had to retire from Ireland to give England a good shot.
"Ireland tried quite hard to keep me. I guess there aren't too many other fast bowlers available for them, are there? We are on retainers with Ireland but they're not that much. They tried to increase it, but this decision was not about the money. It was about trying to play cricket to the highest level I can. They weren't happy, but they understood.
"Ideally I would love to play Test cricket for Ireland, but I can't see them gaining Test status during my playing career and I think everyone understands that any sportsman will want to play the game to the highest level they can.
"I do feel a bit guilty. I've always loved playing for Ireland - it's helped me hugely - and I know I'm not helping their cause by doing this. But it got to the stage where I just didn't feel I could keep playing. Ireland have so much cricket planned for the next couple of years and so do Warwickshire. Something had to give."
Coming so close to the England Test squad in the UAE was another catalyst for Rankin. The frustration of being denied by injury once again brought home to him how important it was that he gave himself the best chance of fulfilling his ambition. So, after much soul-searching and despite the attempts of his Warwickshire and Ireland team-mate William Porterfield to persuade him to continue, Rankin concluded that the logical thing to do was end his Ireland career.
"I know I was close and that was a factor in my decision," he said. "I've feel I probably have a two-year window to break into the England side and, to give myself the best chance of doing that, I had to give up playing for Ireland. I know my body can't take all the cricket it was being asked to play and I know I couldn't bowl at my best if I was tired or injured.
"Those comments from Marcus Trescothick were a huge boost to me. It really helped me understand that I could go on and play at the next level.
"I hope that, if I do play Test cricket for England, it reflects well on Ireland. It would show that the country can produce the players like Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan who can go on and play for England. It'll strengthen their claims for Test status.
"William Porterfield is the Ireland captain and he tried to persuade me. He tried to keep me but I think he understands. Everyone wants the best for me, really. They know that, in an ideal world, I want to play for Ireland, but in terms of my body and the amount of cricket I was playing, it was impossible to keep everyone happy.
"And, if it doesn't happen with England, I can always go back in three years. They said the door is always open to go back."
Rankin faces an uneasy wait ahead of the announcement of Ireland's World T20 squad, however. He was hoping to make the tournament his last for Ireland, but now fears the selectors, either in pique or with a view to the future, may omit him from it. "Hopefully I'll be selected," he said, "but you can understand they may want to look to the future."
For the time being, Rankin is happy focusing on helping Warwickshire try to claim their first Championship title since 2004. In the longer term, though, the continued leaking of talent from Ireland is an issue that only the ICC can stop. Rankin is a symptom of a problem without an easy solution and another example of Ireland being a victim of their own success.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo