Sorensen gets 'A' contract after Rankin retirement
Ireland have awarded medium-pacer Max Sorensen a category-A central contract for the first time, as they prepare for life without Boyd Rankin. Sorensen impressed in 2012, with 31 wickets in all formats for Ireland, and he joins Trent Johnston, John Mooney, Alex Cusack and Kevin O'Brien in the top bracket.
Cricket Ireland has announced that 17 players will be contracted for 2013, down from 23 last year - although a further five, fourth-tier contracts are still to be offered. Rankin, who quit Irish cricket in order to focus on playing for Warwickshire and, potentially, England, is one to drop out, along with two other retirees: Nigel Jones, who was part of Ireland's World T20 side but has now taken up a regional development role, and Albert van der Merwe.
Ireland have already set out a plan to earn Test status by 2020 and they are beginning to develop their next generation. Four young players - Peter Chase, Tyrone Kane, James Shannon, Stuart Thompson - have been handed category C contracts, for those still in full-time education. Thompson, 21, who is studying geography at Northumbria University, made his international debut in 2012, taking 14 wickets in six matches, while Chase was Ireland's Young Player of the Year.
"There's no doubt that a key part of our success to date has been the move to professionalism," the Ireland coach, Phil Simmons, said. "We will now have 22 players on full or part-time contracts and a structure supporting the senior squad. It makes such a difference as a coach to be able to work with players on a regular basis and this has been reflected in our dominance at Associate level over the past five of six years.
"The composition of the contracted players is an indication of what I strive for in my teams. There is the spine of experience as well as a number of very talented youngsters. While immediate results are paramount, it's always good to be thinking ahead and these contracts offer the younger guys some security as they look to build their careers."
The likes of Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien and William Porterfield, who have led Ireland to several notable victories in global tournaments over recent years, retained their second-tier contracts. Seven of the Associate nation's most experienced players also have deals in England and Cricket Ireland will continue to work with the first-class counties to maximise their availability.
This year, Ireland's domestic-based players will also benefit from competing in a new Inter-Provincial series of three-day, one-day and Twenty20 competitions, to commence in late April.
Richard Holdsworth, Ireland's performance director, said: "We are pleased to retain players on 'A' and 'B' category contracts from last year, and all of them still have a great deal to achieve on the international stage. It is important Cricket Ireland has plans for the future, and whilst 2013 will be a huge year for the team, we must also look ahead to major ICC events - the World Twenty20 in 2014 and the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand the following year.
"We have also awarded 'C' category contracts to four younger players who we see as a key part of our future. Seven of the 17 contracted players are also contracted to English counties, and our close relationships with those counties will hopefully allow them to play for Ireland as much as possible in addition to the ICC mandatory matches in season. In due course we shall be offering an additional five 'D' contracts to players who we feel have long-term potential, and these will be announced in time."