Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

The 6ft 7in cricketer from Derry who helped England beat his former Irish team-mates as the sport's profile here gets even higher

Boyd Rankin playing against Ireland at Malahide in Dublin
Boyd Rankin playing against Ireland at Malahide in Dublin

It was a day which pitched the best of friends head to head in a clash between the best of sporting enemies.

The age-old rivalry of Ireland versus England doesn't really need added spice, but the match-up between William Porterfield and 6ft 7in Boyd Rankin yesterday turned an international battle into a personal duel.

Although both are from the north west, they were on opposite sides during the one-day cricket international in Dublin. It was Porterfield who was celebrating after smashing 112 runs off 142 balls before being bowled out by – you guessed it – Rankin. Unfortunately, his heroics were not enough as England won the limited overs match by six wickets.

And the key man was an Irishman with a Welsh-sounding name who was actually playing for England.

Eoin Morgan – one of a number of high-profile players to defect to England in recent years – hit an unbeaten 124 to guide them home.

But it is still a boom time for Irish cricket, which is now the fastest-growing sport in the country.

The number of young players at registered clubs has soared from 11,900 in 2011 to 25,000 this year, while a survey conducted for the International Cricket Council puts the total registered players of all ages at 40,414 – up from 25,170 in 2011.

Bryan Milford, the general secretary of the Northern Cricket Union of Ireland, said the rise in popularity was partly driven by the success of Ireland, who have qualified for their third successive World Cup,

He said: "It started with the victory over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup, continuing four years later when we beat England.

"Those wins gave the team a much higher profile, plus you have players such as Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin who have played for England and been role models. Cricket Ireland and the provincial unions have also done a lot of good development work, going into schools and working with young people, and that is also bearing fruit."

Yesterday's thrilling game at Malahide will only have boosted the sport's profile. After losing the toss, Ireland were put in to bat but made 269 from their 50 overs.

That included a brilliant 112 from Irish captain Porterfield of 14 fours and a six – the latter coming off the bowling of his best friend and Warwickshire team-mate Rankin.

But Rankin got his revenge by taking Porterfield's wicket.

Rankin is from Londonderry and previously played for Ireland, memorably taking three wickets for 32 in Ireland's shock win over Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup.

But last August he announced his retirement from Ireland, saying he wanted to play for England.

This has been controversial after a series of high-profile defections.

Morgan, England's captain in Dublin, is another example, so too Ed Joyce – although he U-turned and played for Ireland yesterday.

Irish cricket officials are hoping to stop the exodus of promising young players across the water. Key to that will be Test cricket status, which Ireland hope to achieve by 2020.

FACTFILE

* Eoin Morgan (right):

He originally represented Ireland at international level before switching to play for England. He was the first – and one of only two players in history – to score a one-day hundred for two nations.

* Ed Joyce (right):

Joyce started out for Ireland but was a member of the England squad for the 2007 World Cup. Joyce has since returned to Ireland.

* Boyd Rankin:

Rankin announced last August that he would cease playing for Ireland, with the hope of one day playing for England, and debuted against New Zealand in a T20 match in June.

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