Johnston to retire at end of the year
Trent Johnston, who has been in the vanguard of Ireland's recent renaissance, has announced he will retire from international cricket at the end of the year. The 39-year-old will play in the World T20 qualifiers in UAE in November, and finish his Ireland career in the ICC Intercontinental Cup final in Dubai in early December.
"It's been a difficult decision and I've racked my brains ever since I came back from the UAE tour in March", Johnston said. "It's becoming harder to recover after matches now, so much so that I can hardly walk for a couple of days."
He explained that after that two-week tour he could only put on and take off his socks with the help of his children, Charlie (10) and Claudia (13). "I knew then my time was limited and although it would have been great to play in another World Cup in Australia, it was just beyond me. It's time to move on to new things and give Phil Simmons a chance to find somebody to replace me."
Johnston's announcement comes just after Ireland qualified for the 2015 World Cup and the final of the Intercontinental Cup. "I'd set myself personal goals at the start of the year and I've been slowly ticking those boxes as we go along. I always knew we were going to qualify for the 2015 World Cup with the squad we have, and the standard we've been playing at for a few years now. I've achieved a lot in my career and I'm pretty happy with how it's all went."
A native of Wollongong, New South Wales, Johnston played several first-class games for that state before he was released in 2000. During the 1990s he had played as a club professional in Dublin, where he met his Irish wife Vanessa, so was intrigued by an approach by a former team-mate, Jason Molins, who was by then Ireland captain. Molins had worked out that by virtue of his marriage Johnston was now entitled to an Irish passport - and a place in the team currently taking shape under Adrian Birrell (who was last week appointed assistant coach to South Africa).
He packed his bags and made his Ireland debut one week after his 30th birthday - and went on to play 186 games for his adopted country, including 65 ODIs, 28 T20Is and 27 first-class games. His 264 wickets is the third-highest ever for Ireland, while his 60 appearances as captain is second only to his successor, William Porterfield.
It is as the charismatic captain of the first Irish side to play in a World Cup that he will be best remembered. Their first two results, a tie with Zimbabwe and win over Pakistan, took them into the Super Eights, with Johnston's six into the grandstand the final blow for Inzamam ul-Haq's team.
"I was incredibly proud to wear the shamrock and to lead your country 60 times including a World Cup was just massive for me", he said. "That first World Cup put Irish cricket on the map and it has kick-started the cricketing expansion that we're witnessing now. It was a privilege to be part of that."
With Johnston's doing a 'chicken dance' after each wicket, Ireland went on to further impress in the second phase, beating Bangladesh to elevate them to the official ODI status at which they continue to challenge the Full Members. He also captained Ireland to their first international trophies, the Intercontinental Cup wins of 2005 and 2007.
After a brief retirement following a gruelling tour of Bangladesh in 2008, Johnston returned to lead the Irish attack for four more years. That he is still a leading figure in Associate cricket on the brink of 40 is down to a Spartan work-ethic and being able to concentrate full-time on the game since being centrally-contracted in 2009. "The back-up I've got from Cricket Ireland, and my friends and sponsors Philip Smith and Patrick Nally of RSA, has given me a chance to play on long after I expected," he said.
Johnston intends to move into full-time coaching, and has already racked up a strong CV with the Leinster Lightning, who have dominated Ireland's new regional competitions. "The Lighting has been a great experience for me, and a big step up from coaching clubs in an amateur set-up", he told ESPNcricinfo. "Because funds are tight I've had to do a lot more and take more responsibility. You're involved in selection, media work, and organising training sessions and game plans so it has brought a new dimension which is really interesting.
"Towards the end of my Ireland career Simmo gave me extra responsibility in preparing the bowling department and working with the guys there, which was good experience, and I also went to the Women's World Cup qualifier in 2011 as Jeremy Bray's assistant."
Cricket Ireland isn't in a position to hire Johnston, but hopes ICC funding down the line might provide an opportunity. "Warren Deutrom has been honest with me, but I don't really know if I can stay in Ireland to progress my coaching career," Johnston said. "It would be great to pick up a job as an assistant or bowling coach and continue to learn the trade. But I know to do that I'd have to travel, which would present challenges. That's something we'll deal with if it arises. Hopefully there will be offers and it's my main priority now to get something nailed down for after December."
Current Ireland captain William Porterfield said: "It's pretty hard to sum up the impact that TJ has had on Irish cricket and what he has achieved. He has brought so much to the squad both on and off the field, leading by example not only with the new ball, but in showing what it means to pull on the Irish jersey by his work ethic off the pitch. I look forward to enjoying the rest of the season with him and sending him out on a high in the Intercontinental Cup final in December."
Coach Phil Simmons also knows he has a large hole to fill in his attack. "Trent has been one of the pillars of this team. He's been incredibly consistent and gotten vital wickets at crucial times spearheading the bowling unit. His experience has been invaluable, his dedication and work ethic has been exceptional."
Irish supporters will give the man they call 'TJ' a fitting send-off on September 3 when Ireland play England in the RSA Challenge at Malahide.