Jon Coates (Irish Daily Mail)
FOR a brief moment Kyle McCallan's normally relentless tongue faltered yesterday as he fought his emotions to explain why he has called time on the most prolific Ireland career on record.
The PE teacher from Co Antrim started his 13-year adventure as a batsman and ended it as an off-spinner ranked 40th in the world in one-day internationals, as vice-captain of his national side and a presence who will take years, if not decades, to replace.
After 226 appearances, but with a fitness level belying his 34 years, the Waringstown player had become such a fixture of Irish cricket that it almost went without saying that he would play a full part in the Cricket World Cup that looms 15 months away on the Asian subcontinent.
However, the increasing intensity of the team's programme — Ireland could face up to 150 days of playing and travelling next year — combined with McCallan's hopes of starting a family and furthering his professional career, led him to grit his teeth and call stumps on an astonishing career.
‘It has been the hardest decision of my life and although I've been giving a lot of thought to this since September, today was a very difficult day,' McCallan told Sportsmail yesterday as he oversaw rugby practice for his pupils at Grosvenor Grammar School in east Belfast.
‘I had been talked around and swayed by people and kept going over all my reasons, and it was only after sitting down with the people closest to me — my wife Lynn, my parents, my old headmaster, my head of department at school — that my mind was made up.
‘There are opportunities coming up at school and I have been stagnating in the job while other people have bypassed me.
‘They were asking us to give 150 days' commitment next year, potentially, and I didn't want to do anything by half.
‘The school have been very good to me and they would have granted me the time, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it was time to put my family and my career first.
‘It's the first time in 20 years that I have put anything ahead of my cricket and it was a gut-wrenching decision, but I wouldn't want to have carried on to the next World Cup without committing fully,' he said.
McCallan at least has the comfort of walking away before enduring the downward trajectory that precedes most retirements. Despite the fact the Irish proved they could manage without him at associate level by winning last year's World Cup Qualifier outright, his immaculate bowling at the World Twenty20 played a big part in their advancement to the Super Eight phase of another elite event.
The off-spinner took eight wickets in five games in England last June at a cost of 137 runs, world-class figures in the short format, and he admits he could never have imagined deriving so much pleasure from a journey that began in Rathmines in June, 1996 against Wales.
‘If you had told me 13 years ago that I would have achieved as much as I have in cricket, I would not have believed you,' he said. ‘That made the decision all the harder, because I know what I am walking away from.'
Regan West has emerged as a useful foil for McCallan but the pair operated best in tandem, and with Gary Kidd still learning his trade, filling McCallan's shoes is likely to be a problem inherited by current national coach Phil Simmons' successors.
‘It's a huge loss for Irish cricket both on and off the field,' said Simmons in Cricket Ireland's press release.
‘I thought his bowling was just getting better and better, which comes with the experience of 226 caps, and it's tough to lose that.
‘I'd hoped to persuade him to stay on, but I appreciate his reasons for retiring, and wish him and his family all the best.'