Boyd Rankin unsure about England's call
Nick Royle (Setanta)
Ireland fast bowler Boyd Rankin admits that he is no nearer to deciding whether he would accept a call-up from England.
After taking 55 wickets in the Championship this season, the Warwickshire paceman was selected for the England Performance Programme (EPP) on Thursday, with the next logical step a call-up to full England colours.
Fellow fast bowlers Steven Finn and Jade Dernbach graduated from the programme to full international recognition in recent years, and, following his call-up for the England Lions against Sri Lanka A in August, Rankin's EPP selection suggests that the selectors see him as a future England player.
The 27-year-old has made no secret of the fact that he wants to play at the highest level of the game, and, with Ireland still an associate nation, he accepts that that means playing Test cricket for England.
"My ultimate aim is to play Test cricket. I cannot see myself doing that for Ireland in my playing lifetime, so it is one of those situations," he told Setanta Sports.
Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom has long complained at the sport's failure to offer improving associate nations a pathway into Test cricket, accusing the ICC of indulging "the cosy club of full Test members."
The Warwickshire bowler agrees with Deutrom that, if he does swap his allegiance, he will have been forced into the decision by the failure of the ICC to offer Ireland a place at cricket's top table.
"I wouldn't have thought twice (about representing England) if we in Ireland had the same opportunities as those in England have," he said.
"I would love to play Test cricket for Ireland, but I cannot see it happening in my lifetime, so I have to try and keep progressing and be the best player I can."
That statement suggests that Rankin has already made up his mind to accept any offer from England, but he is self-aware enough to accept that he would be far from a first-choice selection.
Jimmy Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Tim Bresnan, Finn, Dernbach, Graham Onions, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad have all led the Three Lions' bowling attack in recent years, and the 6' 8" paceman acknowledges that they will take some shifting.
"The big question is whether the offer will come," he said. "If it does, I will have to really consider my options. I have to consider whether I will have a decent career playing with England. I have thought about it a lot but, literally, until it happens I cannot tell you what I would do."
Rankin's wish for a 'decent' England career is significant. For Ed Joyce's experiences undoubtedly clouds his judgment.
Joyce was selected 17 times at one-day level after declaring for England in 2005, but was the fall guy for their struggles in the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, and was never picked again by his adopted country.
Under International Cricket Council (ICC) rules, he then had to wait four years to re-qualify for Ireland, and needed a special dispensation from the ICC to play for the country of his birth in the 2011 World Cup.
Rankin could find himself in a similar situation if picked for England and then discarded, and he acknowledges that will be a factor in his decision.
"I have spoken to Ed about this. But it is difficult to turn down an opportunity of playing at that level, where you are playing one-day internationals or Test cricket day-on-day the whole year. If that time comes, I will have to sit down and think long and hard about the decision."
Another Irishman who ended up in England colours, Eoin Morgan, was so confident in his talent that he was able to tell Cricket Ireland as a 13-year-old that he saw his cricketing future across the Irish Sea.
Rankin, by contrast, admits that it was only when he was called up to Ireland's 2007 World Cup squad that he began to show the dedication necessary to forge a long-term career as a professional cricketer.
"Before that, I did not take it too seriously," he said. "I did not spend too much time in the gym, and I did not see the benefits of working on the fitness side of my game. I was young and immature."
Rankin was on an England fast bowling programme last winter, and feels that the structured coaching on offer helped improved his game.
He travelled to India for two weeks in January to work with Australian legend Dennis Lillee, whilst the strength and conditioning coaches at Loughborough devised a programme to help him avoid the stress fractures that blighted his early career.
The Derryman feels that the avoidance of serious injury this year has given him renewed trust in a body that had in the past let him down.
"Even though I have just turned 27, I feel that my body is still pretty young, and that I am still on an upward curve," he said.