Ulsterman Boyd Rankin bowled over by England Ashes call
Big Boyd Rankin has taken a giant step towards his ambition of playing Test cricket after being named in the England squad for this winter's Ashes series in Australia.
The 6ft 8in farmer's son from Bready is one of three uncapped players in the squad but, in the end, was the least surprising name of the players who are in a line for a first Test cap in the biggest series of them all.
His form against the Australians in the one-day international series which ended the 2013 summer was so impressive that virtually every amateur selector and cricket correspondent had him in their 17-man squad and when chairman of selectors Geoff Miller announced Rankin as the 12th name (alphabetically) in the Long Room at Lord's yesterday, there was not even a murmur of surprise.
The man himself had already received the best phone call of his life, informing him of his selection, and he can't wait to make his first ever trip to Australia.
"I was taking nothing for granted, so I was still surprised when I got the phone call. I'd done well through the season with Warwickshire, then the ODIs, so I felt it was going well, but you just never know just who the selectors might go for but, obviously, it was a nice surprise to get the phone call and I'm just over the moon," said Rankin.
But the 29-year-old fast bowler knows that getting into the squad is only the next step, the biggest will be to get into the starting 11 and while Rankin may be the tallest member of the squad, it is a case of only just with Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett all over 6ft 5ins as the England selectors hope they have a squad which will be well suited to the fast, bouncy Australian pitches.
"The hard work starts now to get into the team. There are a lot of tall bowlers in the line-up and it's important to keep working hard and see what happens. Hopefully I'll get my chance at some stage.
"There are obviously a few warm-up games and it'll be a case of putting in a couple of good performances if I get a chance and put myself in the mix for the First Test. I think Broad and Finn are ahead of me but all I can do is try and keep doing what I have been doing and wait for my turn," added Rankin, who has excelled even himself with the progress he has made since Warwickshire coach Ashley Giles gave him an ultimatum.
Basically, Giles told him if he wanted to play Test cricket for England he would have to give up playing for Ireland because he was playing too much cricket and they (Warwickshire) wanted to manage his workload.
Yesterday's announcement not only vindicated Giles – who has since moved on and will be Boyd's England coach in Australia – but also Rankin's heartbreaking move to give up his nine-year, 82-cap Ireland career.
"Obviously I know Ash pretty well, he has helped me since my move to Warwickshire (in 2008) and I've gone from strength to strength since then. It's nice that he got the England job and it helped that he knows me pretty well," admitted Rankin.
"In saying that you still have to perform for your county and I was lucky enough to get a chance in the two T20s against New Zealand and the ODIs against Australia.
"Ash may have pointed the way forward but it was still down to me to make that decision and take that route into the England team. But since I took that decision it has gone pretty well for me and hopefully I can keep going. "
It will also help Rankin that he is no longer a new boy. He may be uncapped at the highest level but with seven years of county experience and seven appearances in the Three Lions shirt, the Ulsterman feels at home in the England set-up.
"I have been involved in the T20s and ODIs and was with the Ashes squad before this summer's series when I was called up for the Essex match, so I know most of the lads pretty well and feel I've settled in really well," said Rankin.
Speaking at the Press conference to announce the squad, Miller said it wasn't just his end-of-season performances in the ODIs which had persuaded the selectors to pick Rankin ahead of the more experienced Graham Onions.
"He has been performing well for Warwickshire and that's what got him into one-day team. He's a difficult person to bat against and in Australia conditions he will be difficult to play against and it's a feather in the cap for us," said Miller as he looked forward to his England attack bowling at the Waca in Perth and the drop-in pitch at Adelaide.
"We're trying to create problems for them," he added.
"What we want to do is give them as little opportunity as possible.
"We've got bowlers there we feel can give them problems ... whichever ones (coach) Andy (Flower) chooses."
As for Rankin, he realises the rest is up to him, adding: "I'm one step nearer my ambition of playing Test cricket and over the moon at how things have been going this summer. Hopefully I can keep working hard and get my chance."
Boyd has gone from uninspiring youngster to troublesome international bowler
By Ian Rankin
The first time I saw Boyd Rankin was in the 2000 Ulster Bank Schools Cup Final, playing for Strabane Grammar against Wallace High at the old North of Ireland ground at Ormeau.
It was impossible to predict he would be on the plane as one of the five best bowlers in England just 13 years later because he didn't get a bowl in the game!
Rankin was primarily a batsman in that team, more than justifying his place by top scoring with 47 in the semi-final against Ballymena Academy.
Three years later, though, Rankin was batting at No 11 and opening the bowling for Ireland, at Eton College, against the Free Foresters. Four overs, no wicket for 11 runs was his underwhelming opening figures at international level, but then a certain Eoin Morgan made his debut for Ireland in the same game and was out for a duck so first impressions are not always right.
Rankin was 22 before he played his third international for Ireland, a solitary game in the 2006 European Championships against Italy in Glasgow, but two wickets in the game were enough to persuade then National Coach Adi Birrell to take the now Derbyshire pace bowler to the inaugural World Cricket League the following winter in Kenya.
Again he played just one match (0-25 against Bermuda) in a tournament when Ireland lost four of their five games, but by now his genuine pace from his 6ft 8ins frame was starting to trouble the best batsmen.
When Ireland went to their first World Cup finals the following month, Rankin did not miss a match and among his 12 wickets were Michael Vaughan, AB de Villiers, Herschelle Gibbs and Stephen Fleming. He never looked back.
Boyd admits now that it was that tournament which convinced him he could make it to the top and although he continued to play all the major tournaments for Ireland, including the World Twenty20s in 2009, 2010 and 2012, plus the World Cup in 2011 when he added Hashim Amla to his list of high-profile victims, he was already dreaming of making the big time and playing Test cricket.
Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan before him had taken the same decision and, until Ireland can offer Test match cricket, there will remain the possibility of many others following Rankin down the England road.
If they make it to the top, as Morgan has done and Boyd surely will, then no-one can deny them the opportunity.
Certainly judging by the number of tweets yesterday, led by current Ireland coach Phil Simmons, congratulating Rankin on his call-up for the tour everyone wants to be a part of, there were only best wishes for the Big Man to get that first Test cap. And so say all of us.
Boyd Rankin factfile
Name: Boyd Rankin
Born: Londonderry July 5, 1984
Height: 6ft 8ins
Style: Left Hand batsman, right arm fast bowler
Clubs: Bready, Derbyshire (2006-2007) Warwickshire (2008-)
Country: Ireland (2003-2012) England (2013-)
First class appearances: 62 (Best bowling 5-16)
One-day internationals: 42 (BB 4-46)
Twenty20 internationals: 17 (BB 3-20)
List A games: 85 (BB 4-34)
2004: Joins Middlesex.
2006: Makes List A debut as Ireland A lose by 87 runs to Sri Lanka A.
– Joins Derbyshire after two years at Middlesex without playing for first team.
2007: January 31 – Makes one-day international debut for Ireland against Bermuda, taking nought for 25 off four overs in a four-wicket win.
February – Makes first-class bow as Ireland beat UAE by an innings and 170 runs in ICC Intercontinental Cup. Rankin takes four for 56 in second innings.
March/April - Part of Ireland squad which claims upset victories over Pakistan and Bangladesh at the World Cup in the West Indies, taking 12 wickets in the tournament.
May – Makes Derbyshire county championship debut against Leicestershire.
October 15 – Signs two-year deal with Warwickshire after turning down contract with Derbyshire.
2008: August – Makes Warwickshire county championship debut against Essex after an injury-hit season.
2009: June 8 – Makes Twenty20 international debut in ICC World Twenty20 as Ireland beat Bangladesh by six wickets.
2011: March 2 - Helps Ireland claim a shock three-wicket win over England at World Cup in India.
August 15 – Called up to England Lions squad and plays in 135-run win over Sri Lanka A.
2012: August: Announces he will retire from international cricket with Ireland in a bid to play Test cricket for England.
2013: June 25 – Makes England debut in T20 defeat to New Zealand at the Oval.
September 3 – Makes England ODI debut and takes best figures of four for 46 in win over Ireland in Dublin.
September 23 – Named in England's squad for winter Ashes Tour of Australia.