'I don't miss aiming to play at the highest level'
Ed Joyce is no more "Spud" or "Piece", nicknames given to him at Middlesex, his first base when he decided to move out of Ireland to pursue his dream of playing Test cricket. Now back in the country of his birth, Ireland, he's plain "Joycey" to his team-mates. The dream of Test cricket may be unfulfilled but the verve, the hunger, the discipline are still the same - more refined and stronger, perhaps. Joyce, who played the 2007 World Cup for England against Ireland, will now be seen in Irish colours taking on England, one of a handful of cricketers who have played for more than one country in the World Cup.
How does it feel to play against England. Are you nervous?
It feels like any other game really. I was more nervous going into the Bangladesh game as that was our first outing in this World Cup. We were obviously extremely disappointed after that game and we're hoping to put in a good performance against England.
Do England need to fear Ireland?
I wouldn't say England fear us, but I think they respect us and won't be taking us lightly, which just shows how far Irish cricket has come in the last five years or so. We really shouldn't have just scared Bangladesh last week. We should have beaten them after bowling and fielding so well.
How happy are you back to be with Ireland?
I'm delighted to be back with my old team-mates. Those 18 months with England, I really enjoyed that. It was in quest of playing Test cricket. That did not come about, unfortunately. The silver lining is, I'm back with Ireland.
What were you thinking when you decided to make the shift to England?
I made the decision in 2001. Mike Gatting and Angus Fraser at Middlesex asked me if I wanted to try and play for England. Till then it had not even entered my head. I did not even know you could do that.
I was breaking into the Middlesex side at that point, but I thought then about trying for the residency period, which was four years. By 2005 I had established myself and was playing well, and that is when I came under the England selectors' radar. I played a few matches up to about the 2007 World Cup. So the process started much earlier than 2005, but obviously that was when I got involved with England.
Was it difficult to make the move?
It was and it was not. England and Ireland are neighbours and big rivals in a lot of other sports but not necessarily in cricket. That is because in Ireland there were a lot of good players always, but there were not really any structures in place to play well as a team. There was no plan to go forward as a cricketing nation, whereas now there is. That is new. It is an exciting team to be around, playing World Cups and competing against the best countries.
You did everything possible for Ireland to qualify for the 2007 World Cup…
That was a bit strange. It was good to be involved in the tournament in 2005 which allowed Ireland to qualify for the World Cup, and then to play for a different country in the tournament was a bit odd. It is just one of those anomalies.
Did the thought occur to you at any point that you should play for Ireland in that World Cup?
Not really. I put my eggs in the basket. The reason I was playing for England was because I wanted to try and play Test cricket. Ireland still don't play that. At that point I wanted to play at the highest level. That was the dream. I went on an Ashes tour and was the 12th man in the Test squad a few times. I was close enough but did not quite get there.
Do you think you could have been in the England Test squad by now if you had stayed back?
I'm more interested and excited being with this team [Ireland], really, because it is a more vibrant atmosphere. The same guys I played with in 2005… the improvement is amazing, and some of the younger players who have come in have improved so much. There are a lot of full-time professionals there. I do not really miss aiming to play at the highest level. Hopefully, Ireland will get there in the near future.
It has been a journey. That's for sure. It's hard to put in a couple of sentences. Eoin Morgan is going through the same thing now: he is an Irishman and played in the World Cup for Ireland, and now he is in the Test squad for England.
I did not have a huge plan back when I made the decision to try and play for England in 2001. Each decision you make leads on to something else. In one of my first games for England, a Twenty20, I did my ankle in spectacular fashion. Then I came back, played in the World Cup - played against Ireland twice as well in those 17 games.
Did you get sledged when playing in the Ireland matches?
I did not last very long to get sledged!
What was the high point of playing for England?
It has to be the hundred against Australia in Sydney. It was a very difficult Ashes tour and I did not play any game. I was part of the squad. It was a very downbeat team, and then to come back and win that one-day series against Australia and New Zealand after losing the first couple of the games was really good. To be integral in that team and get a hundred, get a few fifties, was the high point. It is a pity I did not kick on from there. [Andrew] Flintoff and [Duncan] Fletcher were pretty complimentary at that stage.
What were your emotions when you made the move back to Ireland?
The World Cup was pretty much a disaster for that England team. There was no doubt that some people were going to pay the price. I've said this before: if I had performed better than I did and then got left out I would understandably be very upset. I think I deserved to play a bit more than I did, but I did not really set the world on fire. I performed to a level. I could have done better. I should have done better. And I did not. That is frustrating.
To see Ireland do well, and being an Irishman, it was difficult to watch. There was a little bit of jealousy. That spurred me to come back. In the 2009 winter, around Christmas, Cricket Ireland asked if I was interested in coming back. I said I would love to.
Do you think it would be a big challenge to become one of the lads once again, with Ireland?
In a way it has been easier because Hamish Marshall was doing the same, so there were two of us. But as I said earlier, it would've been harder if I had not been involved in the 2005 qualification. So I feel I've done my bit in the past to get Ireland to where they are. It does not feel like I'm gatecrashing. That is a good thing.
I had a few reservations because if I got picked for this World Cup I thought I'd be taking the place of someone else who possibly would've played if I had stayed back in England. But there has been absolutely nothing of that sort and I have slipped back in easily. People now are expecting me to do well, so there is a bit of pressure, but that is always there when you represent your country.
Could you talk about Ireland coach Phil Simmons' hand in their growth? What kind of role does he have in mind for you?
Phil had a difficult job because he took over from Adrian Birrell, who had a huge influence on Irish cricket. But Phil reads cricket incredibly well. He picks up something about your game very quickly and tells you in his own way. He has been very impressive. John Mooney says the improvement he has made under Phil has been huge - he is one of the guys who was part-time before and now is full time.
Tomorrow if any youngster is in the same situation as you were, what would you advise: to do what you did or stick with Ireland?
I would always advise and encourage anyone to shoot for the stars and try and be the best you can be. Until Ireland gets Test status it is difficult to tell someone not to play Test cricket. Eoin is a good example. He is a good friend, a good man, has a long England career ahead of him, and he has a good head on his shoulders.
You were the trailblazer originally for many Irish youngsters, including Morgan. Many looked at you as an example, they still probably do. Is there a little bit of discomfort somewhere that your dreams did not work out the way you wanted them to?
It's interesting, because I grew up playing cricket in Ireland. Ireland always had a cricket team but they were never particularly competitive. Once the opportunity came to play at the higher level, no one at home - anyone who knew cricket at least - thought "What the hell is he doing?" It was just a natural progression. I went to England to play county cricket. Ireland did not even play one-day cricket back in 2001. It is probably slightly different for the younger guys now.
Where do you think Associates go now, in view of the ICC decision on their participation in future World Cups?
I would hope that if it goes down to 10 nations there would be some avenue left for Associates to qualify through playoffs between the lower-ranked ODI teams. I will be very disappointed if that was not the case. It would be very disappointing considering the strides that Ireland have made.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo