Rankin back in the green jersey once more

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Warwickshire Cricket Club fast bowler, Boyd Rankin, has expressed his delight at being able to pull on the green shirt of Ireland and play for his home country once more after he swapped his international sporting allegiances back to Ireland from England at the start of the year.

Tyrone native Rankin, 31, last played for Ireland when he turned out against Sri Lanka in the T20 World Cup. After the tournament, he then opted to continue his international career with England, primarily in order to play Test cricket for the country.

The Derry man turned out for England in seven one day internationals and two T20 matches in 2013-14. He made a solitary Test appearance for England in the final match of the Ashes series, where injury forced him from the field twice as England succumbed to defeat, leading to a 5-0 whitewashing by Australia, where Rankin took just the one wicket of Peter Siddle in the game.

The 6’8 bowler hadn’t represented England since he last played for them in a one day international against Australia in Brisbane on 17th January 2014 which meant that, after two years of being overlooked by the selectors he was eligible for Irish selection.

Rankin, 31, met with Cricket Ireland just before Christmas to complete his return to the national team, for whom he made 82 international appearances between 2007 and 2012.

He is currently in Townsville, Australia where Ireland will take on Papua New Guinea in the latest round of the ICC InterContinental Cup. Success in this tournament will help in Ireland’s long-standing quest to become an elected Test member of the ICC.

Prior to this game against Papua New Guinea, Ireland held a two-day practice match against Queensland and Rankin admitted to some pre-game nerves as he was about to embark on his second ‘debut’ for the boys in green. Despite these nerves, it didn’t affect his game as he took 1-29 in his 11 overs.

“I’ve really enjoyed being back in the Irish environment. I’ve been made very welcome, and settled in very well – it doesn’t seem like I’ve been away at all. It was a little strange the first time I pulled the Irish jersey back on for the two-day game, but I settled quickly and felt very comfortable and excited to be back playing,” said Rankin.

“I’m unique in the current Irish set-up for the fact that I’ve had a taste of Test match cricket and I would love more. It would be an unreal experience to get the chance to play Test cricket for Ireland in the coming years so it’s a massive drive for all of us to get to that stage.

“I’m not sure that the pitch and conditions for the PNG encounter will be ideal for fast bowling. It will be pretty similar to what we have been practising on in Brisbane. We are predicting a slow flat wicket with hopefully some turn later on in the game.

“Townsville is very hot and humid so it will be tough conditions for us. but our preparations have gone very well. All the bowlers have got a good run out in the last few weeks and are fit and raring to go come Sunday.”

Ireland’s opponents, Papua New Guinea, shocked competition leaders The Netherlands last summer, and Rankin is expecting a tough contest against the Pacific Islanders.

“I haven’t come across them much before, so they are a bit of an unknown quality. The lads obviously played them last year in the T20 and lost, so it’s going to be a difficult game. I’m sure they are very talented players so we will have to be at our best to get the result we want. We’ve done our research into them and have definite plans in mind.”

The Ireland and Surrey Batsman-Wicket Keeper, Gary Wilson, believes that a studious and meticulous approach to the game against Papua New Guinea will allow the team the best possible chance of entering the Test cricket scene.

He said: “Cricket Ireland has ensured that we have been very well prepared for the game. Since John Bracewell has come in his emphasis has been very much on personal responsibility – what you need to do to get yourself ready to compete come the first ball of the game.

“The competition is obviously now hugely important as for the first time in the history of Irish Cricket it is actually in our hands whether we get to play Test cricket or not. There are certainly a few obstacles in the way but we know if we can play the kind of cricket that we are capable of then there is no reason why we shouldn’t get our shot.”

Wilson was also keen to recognise the importance of the return of Rankin to the Irish side. His return, as well as the experience he holds of international cricket, will give Ireland Captain, William Porterfield, a great foil of skill to draw upon.

“To have Boyd back in the team gives us that extra dimension. Not only is it another weapon on the bowling front but it actually makes our other bowlers more effective as well. It really is brilliant to have the big man back where he belongs. He said himself he has had the best days of his career in an Ireland shirt and we hope there are many more to come.”

The skills and experience within the backroom staff has also been expanded ahead of the ICC World T20 tournament in India, with the addition of former Sri Lankan bowler Chaminda Vaas who is joining the team as consultant bowling coach ahead of the tournament next month.

Vaas has been given a short-term contract and he will join-up with the Ireland team in Abu Dhabi later this month when they take on the UAE in two T20 internationals, before moving on with the team to their pre-tournament training camp in Chandigarh at the end of February, prior to travelling to the tournament itself.

It’s hoped that Vaas will be able to pass on his vast knowledge to the Ireland attack, as well as his experience of playing cricket on the Indian sub-continent, which for some of the team, would be one of the first times they’ve experienced these type of conditions. Vaas holds the best figures by a bowler in limited-overs internationals of 8-19 against Zimbabwe, and Ireland are hoping that one of their strike bowlers can try and match this feat.

His career figures as a bowler saw Vaas take a total of 755 wickets over 111 Test and 322 ODI’s for Sri Lanka. After hanging up his cricketing gear, Vaas has worked as a bowling consultant for his home nation of Sri Lanka, as well as New Zealand. Domestically, he’s also coached in the IPL, so has a great knowledge of this format to draw upon.

Vaas said: “I’m very excited to be joining the backroom staff of the Ireland team. There is a lot of talent and experience in the squad which I’m confident I can add to. I’ve played with and against some of the guys during my time in county cricket with Middlesex and Northamptonshire. I’m relishing the prospect of sharing the knowledge and experience I’ve picked up during my 20-plus years in the game.”

Head Coach of Ireland, John Bracewell, welcomed the addition of Vaas to the backroom team, saying: “It’s great to have Chaminda with us through the build-up as well as during the T20 World Cup. I have long been an admirer of his skills and like all the Sri Lankan cricketers of his era he was a great problem solver.

“His ability to get wickets in all forms of the game especially on the sub-continent was extraordinary. This experience will be invaluable to our bowling group.”

Ireland face Bangladesh, Oman and the Netherlands in the round one group stages of the ICC World Twenty20. The winners of the group will qualify for the Super 10 phase where they will meet India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand.

Ireland’s upcoming fixtures:

  • Sun 31 Jan – Wed 3 Feb: Ireland v PNG – InterContinental Cup, Townsville
  • Sat 6 Feb: Ireland v PNG, T20, Townsville
  • Sun 7 Feb: Ireland v PNG, T20, Townsville
  • Tue 9 Feb: Ireland v PNG, T20, Townsville
  • Sat 13 Feb: Ireland v Danube CC, T20, Abu Dhabi
  • Sun 14 Feb: Ireland v UAE, T20I, Abu Dhabi
  • Tue 16 Feb: Ireland v UAE, T20I, Abu Dhabi

Ireland squad from: W Porterfield (capt), A Balbirnie, G Dockrell, E Joyce, A McBrine, T Murtagh, K O’Brien, N O’Brien, S Poynter, B Rankin, P Stirling, S Thompson, G Wilson, C Young.