It needed only six run-ups and six deliveries to tell Boyd Rankin he wasn’t fit enough to play for Ireland in today’s RSA Challenge one-day international against England at Stormont (10.45am).
Such was the state of the Belfast venue yesterday that there was no prospect of practice for the teams but Rankin found a dry patch on the edge of the square and, with National Coach Phil Simmons watching, did his own fitness test, with fielding coach Julian Fountain wearing the wicket-keeping gloves, 40 yards away.
Match-day has arrived just too quickly for the Warwickshire pace bowler who damaged his groin last Thursday in the county championship match against Durham. The initial diagnosis was that it would take seven to 10 days for Rankin to regain full fitness and, unfortunately for Ireland, it was not even a day out.
At the Press conference, before Rankin’s fitness test, Simmons was upbeat but even without his in-form opening bowler, the West Indian was unequivocal.
“It is the strongest squad in the two years I have been here,” he said. “We’ve just lost Moggs (Eoin Morgan) but barring him this is the best. We knew all about Eoin’s ambition and he’s been good enough to make it into the England team so why keep him back. We’re all happy that he got his chance and it would be nice to play against him tomorrow. All the guys are looking forward it.”
Morgan had to get past seven members of the Ashes-winning squad to get into the starting line-up with Stuart Broad one of the star attractions for the 6,000 spectators who packed into Stormont.
Andrew Flintoff was in the original 14-man squad but he underwent surgery on his knee on Monday night and will be on crutches for the next eight weeks.
Broad is the man England expects to take on the Flinftoff role but Simmons said yesterday it may take some time.
“They are very big shoes to put him in at this stage of his career. The same thing happened when Botham finished, it took a long time for somebody to fill it.
“I wouldn’t want to try and cast Stuart into those shoes yet. He’s bowling well and his batting is coming on but I wouldn’t want to cast him into that yet,” said Simmons.
The Trinidadian had to fend off questions from the English media yesterday on whether he would be interested in the West Indies coaching job.
“I would be lying if I said I would not be interested in going home some time but for the moment I am happy to be in Ireland. I have had no communication at all.”
Atlhough Rankin would be part of Ireland’s first choice bowling attack, the return to the crease of Andre Botha is another reason why Simmons is so confident about his squad.
“It’s a plus that Andre is bowling again. He strengthens the balance of the team. When we play well and a full member plays well that will tell us where we are, how much we have improved.
William Porterfield was 12th man, with only one Ireland game under his belt when England were last in Belfast.
“I remember that day in 2006. It was a good occasion, a good atmosphere. I had played only once for Ireland at that stage and it was a big occasion and I wanted more of it.
We are underdogs but the strides we have made in the last few years show we are closing the gap between ourselves and the Test nations, especially in the one-day format. We have improved as a nation and will be looking to do our disciplines well and if we do that you never know, we could pull off an upset.
North Down will host their second cup final of the season on Saturday when they meet Instonians in the final of the TCH Challenge Cup final (11am).
Downpatrick yesterday pulled out of staging the game, after the heavy overnight rain, and North Down, who lost to Civil Service North in the Ulster Cup final at The Green three weeks ago, won the toss of the coin to host this one as well.