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January 8, 2014

The irony in Rankin's story

Martin Jones

Boyd Rankin limped off one ball into his ninth over, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 1st day, January 3, 2014
Will Boyd Rankin get another Test cap? © Getty Images

In March 2012, William Boyd Rankin was up to his usual tricks for Ireland in the World Twenty20 Qualifier. In that tournament, he claimed 15 wickets at 11 apiece, while producing more pace and bounce than any other Associate seamer. He was the cornerstone of the Irish attack, the totem around which the likes of Trent Johnston and Tim Murtagh were able to work. Ireland won that tournament at a canter, continuing unchallenged once they'd got their Namibian hiccup out of the way.

Five months later, Rankin retired from Irish duty at the behest of his county, Warwickshire. Nobody knows exactly how much, or little, arm-twisting had to be done, but it is believed that he was offered an ultimatum: he could give up playing for Ireland, or he could give up playing for Warwickshire. Given that Rankin is a professional cricketer who needs to earn a living, his choice to stick with higher-paying employers is perfectly understandable. He may also have been seduced by the lure of England duty; what with Ashley Giles' influence, he could expect to jump straight up towards the top end of the queue for Test seamers.

It took about a year, but his decision appeared to have paid off when he was handed his debut in the Giles-led limited-overs formats. He performed well, too, bowling economically in the Twenty20 against New Zealand, and incisively in the ODIs against Australia. He was fast, hostile and dangerous. Suddenly, despite fairly lean Championship returns, he was catapulted into the Ashes squad for the return series. And that is where it all went wrong.

To cut a long story short, there was an open slot for a third seamer, but Rankin's form wasn't sufficient for him to press for it. Indeed, it was only at Sydney that he finally made his debut - and what a debut. In the first innings, the big Ulsterman couldn't get through ten overs without injuring himself, and in the second he couldn't hit a barn door. The sole wicket to his credit was that of Peter Siddle, caught behind when the slog was well and truly on.

Rankin has spent most of his career so far proving that he is better than a mere medium-pacer, but when push came to shove, that is exactly how he turned up and bowled. Ironically, if he doesn't play another Test for England, the greatest moment of his brief career for them will be his headlining performance in an ODI against Ireland.

How different his career could have been if he'd stuck to his Irish guns. He could have been the decisive bowler as Ireland historically beat England in the first ODI at the new home of Irish cricket. He could possibly have altered the course of that Pakistan ODI series. Warwickshire might have cut him loose or, but he would have been among the most sought after bowlers in the county game if they had.

Boyd Rankin is 29 years old. In Irish years, he is "only 29 years old" and could have another eight or nine years left in him. Somewhere in that timeframe, Ireland are on course to get themselves Test status. In English years, he is "already 29 years old", and that horror debut would have pushed him irrevocably behind others in the queue.

If he had stayed with Ireland, he might have had a longer Test career.

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Martin Jones is a teenage swing bowler. He blogs regularly at the Popping Crease, and has an avid interest in the game at all levels.

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Posted by anton on (January 11, 2014, 12:36 GMT)

It's not an irony. What would you rather play - an Ashes or Ireland vs. Australia? In any case, Ireland won't see test status for another several years at least, by which time Rankin will have probably quit the game, and if not, probably another older county player still in the game well past his best sticking in there to make as much money out of the game before retirement.

Posted by Cricinfouser on (January 10, 2014, 23:32 GMT)

Not convinced that sticking with Ireland was a realistic option. He's 29 and has been injury prone throughout his career. I very much doubt he'll still be bowling in 8 or 9 years time. Even if he is, the national boards who run the ICC will probably still be stalling over Ireland's test status. If he had chosen Ireland, I'd suggest most counties would have felt the same way as Warwickshire - why pay an injury prone bowler whose availability and training regime you don't control?

Posted by Steve on (January 8, 2014, 21:02 GMT)

Don't know why some people think Rankin may not get another Eng test cap. Granted, he did poorly in his debut against the rampaging Aussies. But, that game came at the fag end of an arduous, depressing tour that had already claimed Trott and Swann while captain Cook couldn't buy a run if he offered a million a run and rest of pace bowlers barring Broad failed miserably. He probably felt he had no chance with more experienced Finn and Tremlett also on the bench. He also didn't have the luxury of experimenting with Eng bowled out next to nothing. Given all that happened on this tour, one shouldn't expect great things from a nervous debutant when more established starts bit dust. He definitely deserves more chances before being branded as a failure.

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