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Ireland need new skipper to drive the T20 side forward: Johnston

By Ian Callender

Trent Johnston has said that a change of captain could be the way forward for Ireland's fortunes in the Twenty20 arena.

The former Ireland skipper, who retired from international cricket with 199 caps in 2013, is now the respected coach of New South Wales but has retained a love affair with Irish cricket ever since he came here from Australia in 1995.

Speaking from the heart in a wide-ranging interview, Johnston also said that England did not handle Boyd Rankin very well on his Ashes tour, that coach Phil Simmons was wrong not to give the wicket-keeping gloves back to Niall O'Brien, that Ed Joyce is the best player to come out of Ireland and if he (Johnston) comes back to Ireland it will be as coach.

Ireland begin their international summer with a two-match series against Sri Lanka in Malahide next week, their first action since the debacle of the World Twenty20 in India when they failed to win a game.

It is a format which, Johnston insists, Ireland cannot turn their back on. "To get people into cricket it is the T20 route, so we can't leave it behind. It should be a higher priority and we should be higher than 16th in the world," said Johnston.

"Yes, we are concentrating on trying to achieve Test status but, if we are, then let our captain, William Porterfield, concentrate on that and appoint a new skipper for T20. It is an ageing team, who have been together in all three formats for a long time, so it's time to get the brush out and bring new guys into the T20 scene."

Sean Terry, after his record score in an Ireland shirt, is the latest to put his hand up for selection - albeit in the longer format - but Johnston still can't believe that former North Down opening batsman Nick Larkin, who scored 247 for Northern Knights, did not get more opportunities with Ireland.

"Larkin (now back in his native Australia) was a massive missed opportunity by the selectors. He played all three formats and was disappointed there was no communication from Cricket Ireland since before the 2015 World Cup. He has got better since his 247," insisted his coach at New South Wales.

And O'Brien was also treated unfairly by Simmons after missing Ireland's Intercontinental Cup match in Kenya in February 2012, adds Johnston.

"Niall made his choice to play in the Bangladesh Premier League. He never kept wicket again under Simmo, which I thought was wrong," he said.

"I wouldn't have brought him back as keeper straight away but you have to do what's best for the team and Gary Wilson is a better outfielder than Niall, so Niall should have been given the gloves back a lot earlier."

Johnston does admit that he did not have the same connection with Simmons, now coach of the West Indies, as he did with the man who brought him into the Ireland team in 2004 and made him captain the following year, Adi Birrell, now assistant coach of South Africa.

"I had a good relationship with Simmo but it could never recreate the connection with Adi. That was virtually a father/son relationship," said Johnston. "He had a well-planned structure from 2003-07 and was an excellent communicator.

"Simmo took time to get his feet under the table, probably until 2009 (by which time Johnston had been replaced as captain by Porterfield). Tactically he was good and very loyal but to the detriment of new blood. But he is the most successful coach Ireland will ever have."

Johnston returned to New South Wales in 2014 to assist Trevor Bayliss but he was thrust into the top job after his boss was appointed as coach of England.

That left Johnston in charge of some of the biggest names in Australian cricket including former Test captain Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. But he admits much of his coaching methods came from Bayliss.

"He is very relaxed and builds a programme. He lets his players play cricket. (Ben) Stokes is a classic example, scoring 238 in a Test. The players are happy," said Johnston. "I'm someone who, hopefully, has good communication and honesty. I let the players enjoy themselves."

TJ admits his proudest moment to date was getting the "baggy blue" Irish cap presented to him by Bob Kerr in 2004, before his debut at Clontarf in the old C & G Trophy against Surrey. He took the first wicket that day and 199 caps and 273 wickets later he called time on his playing career after winning his fourth Intercontinental Cup winners medal.

And the only question left is: Does Johnston still want to coach Ireland? "I'm very happy at Cricket New South Wales. However I will always be grateful to Cricket Ireland and I've always said I'd love to be at the helm one day. Time will tell."

For the record, Birrell took the Ireland job aged 41 and Simmons at 44. Johnston is now 42.

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