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Rankin is buoyed by his dream of Test cricket with Ireland

By Ian Callender

Published 05/03/2016

Ready for action: Boyd Rankin ahead of Ireland’s final World Cup warm-up against Zimbabwe yesterday in Dharamsala, India
Ready for action: Boyd Rankin ahead of Ireland’s final World Cup warm-up against Zimbabwe yesterday in Dharamsala, India

Boyd Rankin is starting out on his second Ireland cricket career, just over three years since he turned his back on the country of his birth with the intention of playing Test match cricket for England.

Through sheer hard work and commitment, he achieved that ambition against Australia in Sydney in January 2014, but it proved to be the beginning of the end.

Rankin played just two more one-day internationals (ODIs) for the Three Lions, on that same Ashes tour, but thanks to the quirk of the International Cricket Council (ICC) regulations which differentiate between England (a Full member and Test nation) and Ireland (an Associate side) he was allowed to return to the Irish side two years after his last England appearance.

Rankin has been widely welcomed into the fold by his former team-mates and Irish supporters alike but there remains a minority who claim he is only wearing the green again because he was a 'failure' with England.

"I can understand where people come from if they say that. It went through my mind before I did it (decide to come back) because that's the way it looks. But my aim was to play Test cricket for England. There was no guarantee when I stopped playing for Ireland that England would pick me so I still had to knuckle down to try and improve my game," he says.

"I was proud to get to that level but frustrated I didn't get to show what I could actually do. I think I showed it in the ODIs and Twenty20 games and that led me to be selected for the Ashes tour.

"I thought I was bowling well at the start but lost out to Chris Tremlett's experience. By the time I got my chance (in the fifth and final Test), I was not fully fit but I had to try and take that chance. A lot was made of the nerves ruining my debut but, looking back, I don't think it was a contributing factor. I was pushed into saying that, or thinking that, but basically it was my shoulder problem."

Even up to the end of last summer, Rankin thought he had a chance of an England recall but as more squads were selected, more new players came in.

"When I missed out on the Test tour to South Africa this winter, and I'm now the other side of 30 (he turns 32 this summer), that was the time to cut my losses," Rankin admits.

"Ireland had made a great start to the Intercontinental Cup (the pathway to Test cricket) and I wanted to help that cause and with the World Twenty20 here in India (it starts on Tuesday), I thought it was a perfect time to help them and get into the main stage. For quite a few of us, it could be our last world event."

Rewind 25 years and it was his dad, Robert, then captain of Bready Cricket Club, who took the seven-year-old Boyd to the club, ensuring a new generation of Rankins would come through.

His brothers, David, also now an Ireland international, and former Ireland U19 batsman Robert, who plays for Lisburn, and sister Jemma, who captains Bready Ladies and has played for the men's Fourths and Fifths teams, have not let their father down.

"I can still remember my first cricket game, and I played for the primary school, then Strabane Grammar with Purdy (current Ireland captain William Porterfield) and with Bready through all the age groups," recalls Ireland's, now, 6ft 8in fast bowler.

"I was actually more of a batter when going through the early age groups. I started at number three, four and five, then down to seven and eight at U19 level and by the time I got into the senior side I was down to batting at No 11."

That was in 2003 and for Boyd, who had always towered over his young team-mates, it was a case of if you're tall enough you're good enough.

But that summer, Rankin had another decision to make, away from the cricket field. Brought up on his dad's farm, it was second nature for the entire family to help out.

"When going through secondary school it was always my aim to go to agricultural college. My options were to stay in Northern Ireland and go to Greenmount or go across the water to Harper Adams, at that stage probably the best college in the UK.

"It probably still is, but it was a good opportunity to get away from home with the intention of coming back to the family farm.

"It was a four-year course and a few other lads at school went over with me. Harper Adams had a college cricket team but I didn't actually play because I was flying back every weekend to play for Bready, so it didn't make sense to join them. I only finished three years of the course because the final year was 2007 when I was selected by Ireland for their (first) World Cup squad in the West Indies.

"So I took a gap year and the way things worked out I haven't actually gone back. I still have the option of going back to top up, but can't really see myself doing that now! I did get a qualification but it wasn't the full degree.

"I still come back to the farm whenever I can.

"I was back for four days when I returned from the UAE last month," states Boyd.

"The sheep were lambing so I still love helping out, it's a busy time of year," he says.

By 2006, Rankin was a professional cricketer during the summer, opting for Middlesex ahead of five other counties who offered him trials, simply because Ed Joyce (an established Ireland international who would also join England before returning to Ireland) and Eoin Morgan (who after 50 games for Ireland is now England's one-day captain) were there.

It was a frustratingly slow start for Rankin, who had to be content with 2nd XI cricket at Middlesex, but his time at Harper Adams put him in the right place for his cricket career to take a decisive turn for the better.

"At agricultural college I was not too far from Derbyshire and Mike Hendrick (Ireland's first full-time coach and who had met Rankin four years earlier at a cricket academy in Spain) asked me to come to their winter nets. After a few of those, he invited me to Derbyshire for the new season," he said.

"Middlesex had signed more bowlers that winter, so I saw no point going back, having got so few chances the previous two years."

Since then he hasn't looked back and after just one year at the County Ground in Derby he was snapped up by Warwickshire where he has been ever since, with winners medals in both divisions of the County Championship, 40-over League and the Twenty20 Blast.

Watching from the stands at the T20 finals day was his proud mum, Dawn, who may not have graced the playing field but is Boyd's number one supporter, even arriving in Dharamsala this morning in time for Ireland's final warm-up game against Zimbabwe, ahead of their World Twenty20 campaign.

"Mum was also at my T20 debut in London and was in Australia with Robert and Jemma for my Test debut," he states.

Where was his cricket-mad dad?

"The only flight my dad has been on was his honeymoon to Edinburgh and he said he would never fly again. It's hard enough to get him across on the boat to England to watch a county match," adds Boyd.

"You take for granted your parents' support and it's only now, looking back, (you see) the sacrifices they made travelling round with you, taking you to the junior games and practices and so on."

Boyd, in turn, has rewarded them by playing at the highest level of the game and, because he failed to make it with England, he is more determined than ever to take Ireland to undreamt heights at the second time of asking.

Boyd Rankin is proud to partner Foyle Food Group, suppliers of quality beef to leading retailers, manufacturers, food service providers and butchers around the world. Read his exclusive column in the Belfast Telegraph throughout the Cricket World Cup.

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