Ronnie Irani has announced he will retire at the end of the 2007 season due to the long-standing knee problems which forced him to give up bowling four years ago and have limited his appearances this summer. Essex had offered him a new two-year contract, but after aggravating the injury while playing against Leicestershire earlier this season, Irani decided at the weekend that his knees wouldn't stand up to much more cricket.
"I've had a great time with Essex and loved every minute," he said. "While I'm immensely disappointed, I want to make sure that every one of the club's supporters will say that Ronnie Irani gave everything and that he never took a penny without performing. By the end of 2007 I'll have given it my all and I hope people will realise that I couldn't give any more.
"The offer was wonderful but my right-knee condition is so acute that I would be kidding everyone if I accepted it. Since I gave up bowling in 2003 my batting has really come on, but my deteriorating health means that there is no realistic chance of me playing a meaningful role in the 2008 or 2009 seasons."
Irani, 35, has been an Essex stalwart since 1994 when he moved to Chelmsford following four unfulfilled seasons with Lancashire. Early in his career he was a fine allrounder, batting in the middle order and bowling a large number of overs, occasionally with the new ball. By 1996 he'd done enough to attract the interest of the England selectors and was picked in David Lloyd's first squad for the one-day series against India. He made his Test debut against India that same season, at Edgbaston, taking a wicket with his fifth ball, but managed just two further Tests. His ODI career lasted slightly longer and he squeezed into the 2003 World Cup squad for his final international honours.
However, his county career went from strength to strength. When he was forced to ditch the bowling boots he developed into a top-four batsman, also opening in the one-day game. In the 2004-2006 seasons he averaged over 57 each time, twice passing 1000 runs, and at the start of the current campaign had found strong form with a career-best 218 against Glamorgan. He also led Essex to back-to-back National League/Pro40 titles in 2005 and 2006.
But his knee problems began to take their toll and he has been forced to sit out some recent matches, although he is determined to end his career on the field. "I'd like to finish this season as captain in the games that I can," he said. "Although I'm not going to be able to fulfil all the matches because of my knee condition I want to be able to play as many one-day games and maybe a few Championship matches too. I have a duty to make sure that we are playing to the maximum and trying to win games in all circumstances."
Thoughts will now turn to Essex's replacement as captain. Mark Pettini, the 23-year-old right hander, could be in pole position having led the side in Irani's absence, despite only cementing a first-team spot this season. Alastair Cook has also deputised, but his England career would presumably rule him out of contention for the time being. "Pettini is a great kid and he's a good player, but I don't think they should just jump into [a decision]," Irani told Cricinfo. "It has to be right for the club and for the player."
Graham Gooch, Essex's coach, told Cricinfo: "It's a massive loss for us because we've lost our leader, our most experienced player -considering that about three weeks ago Andy Flower retired, and Darren Gough decided to go back to Yorkshire. It's been a bit of a struggle to carry that sort of loss.
"He's been an inspirational captain for Essex, a leader from the front, a role model in the way he goes about his cricket. He's been a great servant for Essex and a great entertainer for the fans here."