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Roy Torrens has a ton of memories from Irish cricket

By Laure James

Roy Torrens says that whoever decided to play cricket in Ireland had a heck of a sense of humour. He has a point - it's summer, the temperature has dropped to 11 degrees and it's starting to rain at Stormont.

His straight-talking observations are punctuated by stings of Bobby Cliff's seminal reggae hit, Soul Limbo - the original Test match cricket theme - over a tiny PA system.

"We'll have to pause for that quite a lot," he says, raising his voice as he nods to another ball spinning off the boundary. And these fours are being scored by Ireland, which makes for a pleasant change, against Afghanistan.

When the noise dissipates, he's smiling. Torrens is cataloguing memories from his life and time as manager of Cricket Ireland, which spanned a decade.

"When I took the job on at the start, the then Irish cricket union secretary, John Wright, a very dear friend of mine, took me on a walk around the field one day and suggested I took on the manager's job," he recalls.

"I had been the chairman of the National Selectors for a few years and then was President in 2000. In 2004, John asked me if I would become manager.

"I asked what kind of commitment that would mean, and he told me I'd get the occasional trip to Scotland, a couple of days in England and very possibly, a trip to Holland. I thought that sounded fine for a man winding down his involvement.

"I had no idea how much it would change. In those days you played about six games a season. In the 11 years I was there, we played over 350 games.

"I loved it though, going to matches, travelling the world and meeting new people everywhere we went. I was a father figure, whether I liked it or not, but now when I think about how I'm still called 'Uncle Roy', it's very satisfying."

He has made numerous international trips with the team since taking on the role in 2004, yet his love of the sport has not been diluted with the privileges of power - or the departure of retirement.

Indeed, he dedicates several days a week to assisting Brigade Cricket Club in Derry, where it all began.

"Since leaving almost two years ago, I went back to my old cricket club where I spent my youth. I was raised in a family of six; the four boys all played cricket as did my two sisters, one represented Ireland as an opening batswoman, so I've gone back to my old stomping ground at Brigade," says Torrens.

"I've found like most clubs they could do with a bit of help so I have challenged my efforts into that."

Promoting international cricket is always a key aim, and Torrens has worked hard to ensure Cricket Ireland's name is synonymous with team spirit, on and off the field of play.

"While I enjoyed all the trips abroad, the most memorable was the trip to India," he says.

"The Irish are everyone's second favourite team, everyone loves the Irish and because of that we received numerous requests to go to functions and work with charities. It was my job to manage those, and work out which we could go to. We tried to do as many as possible.

"One I will never forget is a trip to a children's home in Calcutta. A minibus took half a dozen of the lads, myself and my wife, Joan, along and we met the children there. They were living on top of a rubbish dump. The conditions they lived in were unimaginable.

"They took me to a school which was no more than a corrugated iron shack, but they all greeted us with smiles and songs. The parents were trying hard to save for a sewing machine, and the teacher explained they had saved £11 in the last three months. I asked how much they needed, and she told me £100.

"It was going to take her a couple of years to save it, so I organised a whip-round among the lads. We cobbled together what would have been about £200 and told them to buy two.

"The joy that brought to that person, and our group, was incredible. I remember going to a children's hospital in Guyana, and children were there lying on their own in a hospital cot because their parents couldn't afford to visit them.

"All we did was go in and lift them up, play with them, give them a cuddle, and it was a huge occasion for them as they went for so long without human interaction."

While cricket carries something of an elitist reputation, Torrens' heart-warming tales show a softer side to the sport, and inclusion is a common theme for those who champion the game closer to home. Official figures show participation throughout Ireland has increased, particularly among young people.

Moreover, when Torrens shares stories of how he and Joan can even be found on their hands and knees scrubbing the dressing rooms at Brigade, it does show how few airs and graces there are among cricket's top administrative order.

"Joan and I have been quite hands on. She decided many years ago that if you can't beat them, join them. We clean dressing rooms and do a bit of repainting around the place," he says. "She couldn't spell cricket before she met me, she had no interest in it at all.

"Now she's been around the world with me, and she has a tremendous fondness for the game. I got so much from it and now I am trying to put something back.

"Brigade were the leading club in the north west and my aim is to get them back up there, with improvements on and off the field. More has to be done. I would like to see the start of play brought forward, because young lads want to be out socialising, not still playing at 8pm.

"I want us to be a force to be reckoned with."

Torrens, a retired international right-handed batsman and right-arm fast-medium bowler himself, talks resiliently in a gently commanding fashion. He was awarded an OBE in 2009, and was head of the Irish delegation at the 2007 World Cup. Yet behind the accolades and his legacy, he harbours a secret fear.

"I'm totally terrified of flying," he whispers, looking over his spectacles and starting to laugh at how absurd he finds this admission. "I am one of the world's worst fliers. It's only been with the good help of Scottish whiskey distillers that I've been able to fly as much as I have.

"I'm a Scotch man rather than an Irish whiskey drinker too, which is unfortunate as I live so close to Bushmills, but I wouldn't have gone on so many trips had I not started drinking it!"

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