Australia in England 2013 September 9, 2013

Less gym, more swim helps Rankin

England think they might have found a new fast bowler in Boyd Rankin; now the task is to keep him on the field. On a day when another Australia quick, Mitchell Starc, looked likely to miss the return Ashes series because of back trouble, Rankin revealed the lengths that England have gone to in order to build up his fitness.

Starc and Rankin are at different stages of their careers. Starc, like several young Australian quicks before him, is still at the age when stress fractures of his back are the likeliest danger of a heavy international programme. Rankin's England career has begun at the relatively ripe age of 29, when back trouble is less common, but various ailments have necessitated that England put much thought into his individual training regime.

A succession of injuries over the past few years threatened to render his debate over whether he should make the switch from Ireland to England pretty meaningless, but after a foot injury early this season he has remained injury free and two strong performances in his first two England ODIs, against Ireland in Malahide and against Australia at Old Trafford, have raised the possibility that he will squeeze out the likes of Graham Onions and Chris Tremlett for a place in the Ashes Test party.

Before then, and a source of excitement, is a first England appearance on his home ground when the NatWest Series resumes at Edgbaston with Australia 1-0 up with three to play.

"I have been set back over the last couple of years having picked up a few injuries which has set me back from where I wanted to be," he said. "I have got over those injury worries now and it has enabled me to get a full season under my belt.

"That helps in terms of my fitness and my bowling form as well. It has all come together pretty well. I had that time off in the winter to get my body right. It has helped me to push on and hopefully I can keep going.

Watch England's budding young fast bowlers get put through their paces at the national performance centre at Loughborough and gym work is never far away. For Rankin, the individual programme drawn up in conjunction with England's strength and conditioning coach, Huw Bevan, is rather different. Rankin's gym bunny days have come and gone.

"It has been smarter in terms of the things that I do," he said. "It is probably the stuff that I have cut out that has helped me stay on the park. I was doing a lot of running, squatting and lunges and stuff like that - all on my feet. I have cut out a lot of that and doing more cycling and swimming and trying to take the force off my body.

"For a big lad I ought to be a quicker swimmer. Swimming is more for recovery and a bit of cardio-vascular as well: short, sharp, sprint stuff. I think in the past I have enjoyed going to the gym too much and that hasn't helped me."

At the start of the season, a foot injury struck him down, a stress response of the second metatarsal, potentially disruptive for longer periods. "But it feels good at the minute and I have pretty much played the full season," he said. "That is one of the things that the ECB have really helped with - getting the right bits for myself like a special insole and changing my boots."

It is not to denigrate Ireland to remark that the back-up Rankin gains from England's backroom staff is at a level he could never have imagined over the water. He does not regret for a moment his change of allegiance.

"It was a difficult decision," he said. "I had played quite a lot with Ireland over the last few years including in World Cups but for myself I always wanted to play for England and push myself and play Test cricket which is the main reason why I have done it.

"Everyone wants to play at this level and test themselves and I'm no different. I had got to the stage where I had to stop playing for Ireland and concentrate on playing for Warwickshire then force my way in to the England set up with good performances for them."

No sooner has he broken into England's one-day side, he finds himself one of the more experienced hands in an experimental and so far vulnerable attack. England's one-day coach, Ashley Giles, who made Rankin one of his first signings, from Derbyshire, when he took over as Warwickshire coach, will have observed his solidity and been grateful for that move six years ago.

"I have had quite a bit of experience with Ireland in terms of World Cup which helps whenever you come into this environment, so I suppose with myself and Steve Finn in terms of the new bowlers it puts a bit of responsibility on me," he said. "But I think I react well to that. When I was in Ireland I was the leader of their attack and I have done quite well when given the extra responsibility.

"I would hope to have the chance to push myself into Ashes contention. These ODIs are a great chance to show what I can do. I am just trying to put a good show on and hopefully that would put me in good stead for the winter. I haven't played in Australia before but I have heard really good things in terms of the pitches which should suit me."

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo