Johnston ready to reforge Rankin partnership
Jon Coates, Irish Daily Mail
TRENT JOHNSTON is a combative cricketer, a no-nonsense warrior who would hate to stand beside a player who didn’t share his commitment to the cause.
And yet, he is prepared to make an exception for Boyd Rankin, who flew out with the Ireland squad to Sri Lanka yesterday to embark on one of sport’s more curious swansongs.
Rankin’s appearance at the World Twenty20 will be his last shift in the green of Ireland. The towering fast bowler, very much a developmental freak in the history of Irish cricketers, has declared that from next year on his international exertions will be in English colours or not at all.
Johnston, the 38-year-old former Ireland captain, held the young farmer’s hand in the nascent days of his cap career and co-conspired with him on several of the national side’s greatest days.
Now he is preparing to watch his strike partner walk away, and yet there is no discord, which underlines the depth of the crisis facing Irish cricket as the flagship men’s team go into battle with the global elite for a fifth time.
The clouds lifted yesterday with the news that Craig McDermott, until recently Australia’s bowling coach, will accompany Ireland to Sri Lanka. But if Rankin performs well on his valedictory tour, McDermott might be left rather mystified as to the kind of resources he would be working with if he were to work with Phil Simmons’ group again.
‘He’s not a guy who likes to make these sort of decisions: he just likes to bowl a cricket ball and take wickets,’ Johnston said of Rankin.
‘We had a good chat after he made the decision and we’re still the best of mates and I can’t wait to play with him in Sri Lanka.
‘It’s just sad that Cricket Ireland have put all that time and money into getting him where he is now, basically to lose him with so many massive games coming up.
‘Hopefully something can be done along the line to make sure that if Boyd can play for England, he will certainly be the last because we’re sick and tired of talking about losing our best players to England.
‘I think the ICC need to recognise the value of the cricket we are producing and throw a few extra shillings at it so we can keep players here.’
Rankin and Johnston dovetail beautifully as a new-ball pairing, the former generating intimidating pace and bounce and the latter prising out wickets with his guile and assassin’s accuracy.
Rankin is a lost cause, but Johnston’s quarrel is not with the Bready man but with the game’s top-heavy nature.
As long as Ireland do not play Test cricket national coach Phil Simmons will have to be pragmatic and pick players who have no interest in an Irish future, Johnston believes.
‘I don’t think it’s a brave decision, I think it’s the right decision [to take Rankin to Sri Lanka]. If we’re going to be competitive in World Cups we’ve got to pick our best team, and Boyd is certainly in that team. For me, it was a no-brainer,’ he said.
‘It’s going to be hard to fill his shoes and we’ll probably never fill the shoes of Boyd Rankin.’
Johnston, who almost retired in 2008, has seemed in recent years like the old dog revitalised by the arrival of an energetic pup. It is ironic, then, that the loss of the prize of the litter will actually extend his career.
Surgery on his knee last winter to repair patella tendonitis has proved successful, and he has entered talks with Cricket Ireland about a contract for next year, the one he says will almost definitely be his last.
But with Rankin on the way out, Middlesex’s Tim Murtagh yet to prove the value of his conversion in the other direction and Max Sorensen still feeling his way into international cricket, the Sydney native is not ready to leave Ireland to their own devices.
‘Now that I know where my body is and what I can do, I think next year is very achievable,’ he said.
Whatever about next year, Johnston was never going to miss one more joust with the Australians, not to mention West Indies.
‘They are two very dangerous, but beatable teams,’ he said, ever the combatant.