"A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery" (James Joyce)
The association is as comparable as it is markedly dissimilar. Two young, male, Irish artists with a conspicuous talent that went so unrefined in her native homestead and who hence sought fortune in the upper echelons of European society. Gifted in a sense that their impact is far reaching. Ed Joyce, once of Ireland but now of Middlesex and soon to be of England has enjoyed a steady ascent on the English county cricket circuit. Like his namesake James, once of Dublin and later of Zurich and Paris, Ed has captivated the audience of Middlesex and his rise has not gone unnoticed in the broader cricketing circles.
His coach and adviser at Middlesex, former England test bowler John Emburey, believes that Ed's form, style and temperament has alerted the attention and interest of the English test selectors: "If Ed continues to develop at the level that he is now, then there is no reason that he won't play for England. We're absolutely delighted with Ed. Here's scored his runs well, he gets on with the job and his form has been good. There might even be the possibility that he will be able to attend the academy this winter". Comparisons with another left-hander, former England batsman David Gower's grace at the wicket coupled with his timing through both the off and the leg-sides are not exaggerated. The manner with which he thwarted the Durham attack in the sweltering cauldron that was London that Jubilee weekend was astounding. He cut, powered and drove his way to 44 in the first innings before an innings of 71 in the second that saved the game for his side. Joyce possesses that rare ability to make all shots seem natural and uncomplicated.
"The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts" (James Joyce)
Consider all of the stereotypes: afternoon tea and scones, a gentleman's sport competed by an elitist minority, think of Lord's, the Ashes, immaculate whites with collars upright, reserved elder statesmen etc., and then redress them all. Ed Joyce is, in a cricketing sense, something of an enigma. Neither conceited nor overbearing nor even intolerably cocky, as is so often the case with young stars with premature, and usually inaccurate, estimations of their own worth, Joyce is a signal of greater things to come in this most misinterpreted and underestimated of sports in Ireland. Ed's emergence over the past two years in England, particularly though this season where his average at the beginning of June stood at a healthy 55.4 with two hundreds and a score of 93 against the visiting Sri Lankans under his belt, that has left him with an onerous decision, that being to declare for England, despite having been capped by Ireland: "Obviously I'd prefer to play for Ireland but purely in terms of career choice if I had the chance to play test cricket then that's where all the money is ... I've basically made a decision. I've already told Embers (John Emburey) that I'll be declaring for England." The repercussions of Joyce's decision will not be immediate for either him or for the Irish national team as " ... if I declare for England then I can still play for Ireland in the meantime, but I just have to spend a certain amount of time over here (two hundred and ten days out of the full year for four years), which I am anyway because of my contract (which runs to the end of next season). After that it could well be that I'm not playing county cricket anymore and that I won't be good enough to play for England, so I'll just keep on playing for Ireland".
"I want to work with the top people, because only they have the courage and the confidence and the risk-seeking profile that you need" (James Joyce).
This is the primary motivation for Joyce's development as a sportsman. His decision to abscond is neither as a result of a loss of nationalist pride nor as an explicit betrayal of his heritage. Rather, this is a natural advancement that could viably act as the catalyst for Irish cricket in general, "There definitely is the chance for more players once one emerges from a country. I think Eoin Morgan (of Malahide and now affiliated with Middlesex) is a freakish talent ... Dominic (Ed's brother) is going to play a second eleven game this summer as well ... I know Conor Armstrong (North County) is being talked by a few counties I think ... William Porterfield (Donemana) is pretty good as is Adrian McCoubrey (Ballymena) ... Basically you've got to keep your best players interested in playing for Ireland." The talent exists in this country. The foreign influx of playing staff but particularly in coaching has helped to augment Ireland's profile. However Joyce fears that an over-reliance on overseas cricketers could well stifle promising youth players in the Irish leagues. "For instance, if you're not going to get into the next World Cup, the young guys who come over to England might declare for England which would be a disaster for Irish cricket". Emburey also identifies with this point, but feels that Joyce's emergence will prove to assist more than hinder: "Although most players would favour county cricket, Ireland has worked very hard on the development side of the game, therefore there is now a clear link in Ireland now to the county circuit".
Irish cricket is at a crossroads. Adrian Birrell's appointment in spring from Eastern Province in South Africa is, Joyce believes, " a good acquisition. But I don't think we've done it well enough over past years. I think they (ICU) looked into it a little bit more. He's the perfect kind of guy for Irish cricket because he's not a big name. He hasn't got a big ego. He's a down-to-earth guy. Bringing in overseas people is probably the only way to get a good coach. I think (Mike) Hendrick was the right person. I'm not sure Rutherford was. He was a very nice fellow but I don't think he was really clued into what his job was. Birrell looks like he should be, as some of the boys say". The development of the game in Ireland is dependent on allying common goals and ambitions to consistency in selection: "I think they've got to get a set of players who they're going to stick with for five or six years, at least. It doesn't matter how they play in the next little while. I think we've got some good young players coming through. Good senior players have got to stay in the set-up for a while because there's no point in getting rid of them. You can't have another young side coming up because they just won't win anything. You've got to have both senior and junior players, keep the team together for a long time and hopefully that will work". Making the final push towards qualification for the World Cup, given the current lack of resources in Ireland, is a realistic ambition, however, "I think we need a more experienced side. We have a very young side. Our bowling was very poor. Basically, you've got to get fifteen or twenty players playing at a higher level, which is difficult to do in Ireland because you don't have the (standard of) pitches which is nearly the most important thing ... Secondly, you only have fifteen or so players who are good enough so you've got to get those few playing against each other which is difficult because of work commitments ... I think the best chance for Ireland is to get four or five players over here playing county cricket in England and then have them going back to play for Ireland".
One of the fascinating observations in our brief discussion was an unintentional fluctuation between Joyce's use of "I, you, we" and "they". Despite the nationalist jargon that may emerge from a devout Irishman deciding to declare for England in any aspect of life, it is done so to supplement a personal ambition. Though Joyce, as he readily admits, may never actually have the opportunity to represent England, the mounting likelihood is that he will, sooner rather than later. Cricket in Ireland is in as healthy a state as it ever has been, yet there is a distinct fear that the up and coming talent may well be stifled by a third world mentality as regards funding and basic governmental support. From a position of privilege, having once played alongside and opposed some of the aforementioned names at junior level, it is with an air of optimism that one can whole-heartedly accolade the merit of this most under-rated sport in Ireland. However, the distinct possibility remains that this and future generations of Celtic Cubs will be lost to the lure of the pound and the promise of greater competition and personal rewards from across the Irish Sea. The basic structure is in place, the shrewd recruitment of Birrell will tighten psychological barriers and increase professional preparation and, most importantly, the interest exists and is ever growing. James Joyce once observed how in his struggle to become a poet, in his lingering loyalties to kin country and church and in order to remove himself from burdensome influences, his autobiographical character in "Ulysses", Stephen Dedalus, had to arrive at some sort of self-definition. Ed's decision "to fly in the face of tradition" may well act as much a forewarning as a triumph in the face of sporting adversity. Alas, only time will tell though.