Dunn deal for Ireland?
Peter O'Reilly (Sunday Times)
Seeing Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin representing England has aroused a curious mix of emotions in Irish cricket folk: pride at the acknowledgement that our boys are good enough to compete at the highest level, and abhorrence that opportunistic neighbours should undermine the Ireland team just at a time when it seeks to be accepted at that very level.
There is pleasing irony, therefore, in the news that Cricket Ireland (CI) have targeted a product of England’s development programme – Matthew Dunn, a 22-year-old fast bowler with Surrey – as a potential spearhead for Ireland’s bowling attack at the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next spring.
Described on the Surrey website as “an exciting prospect already capable of bowling at 90mph -plus”, Dunn has already represented England at U19 level and caused a stir when he took five wickets on country debut a couple of seasons ago. As part of the Potential England Performance Programme, he has spent last winter at the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy in South Australia.
While he grew up in England, Dunn just happens to have a father from Donaghadee in County Down. Given that the Surrey captain, Gary Wilson, also comes from Northern Ireland, it’s probably no surprise that Cricket Ireland were soon in touch. Richard Holdsworth, CI’s performance director, met Dunn in London a few weeks ago.
Seeing as 10 of Ireland’s top cricketers are currently contracted to English counties, Holdsworth is keen to maintain cordial relations with the various directors of cricket and so is wary of creating the impression that this is a counter-poaching operation. At the same time, having a narrow talent base means it’s important to examine all options.
“We have our eye on a large number of players, not just in the UK but around the world,” says Holdsworth. “We’ve got about two dozen names as part of a player succession document and I’d say I get an email every fortnight from cricketers who say they are Irish eligible and want to know what process they need to go through. They see the prospect of playing at world cups and in Test cricket down the line.
“Matt’s very much on our radar, though I can’t disclose exactly where we are with him at the moment. Three weeks ago, I went and sat with the chief executive, sat with the player’s agent and with the player himself and discussed the merits and structure of Irish cricket. It’s about the player’s best interests first and foremost but if we think he can add to the Irish set-up, then we’re interested in looking at him.”
Dunn is not the only Irish-eligible player in county cricket at present and it’s understood CI considered approaching Liam Plunkett before the Yorkshire players was recalled to the England line-up. Opening bowlers are top of their shopping list given that stocks are thin following the recent retirement of Trent Johnston and the defection of Rankin.
The possibility of Rankin returning to the Irish set-up has already been broached publicly by CI’s chief executive, Warren Deutrom, after the bowler’s unhappy experience on last winter’s Ashes tour, which reportedly made him consider giving up the game altogether. While Rankin has recovered form and fitness with Warwickshire, he turned 30 yesterday and is surely out of England’s plans.
While CI have argued in the past for a two-year stand-down period before a player could re-qualify for his country of origin, they can now see the benefit in invoking the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause which worked to their benefit in Ed Joyce’s case. Rankin’s pace and bounce would be a handy asset at the World Cup, especially on the quicker Australian pitches.
The International Cricket Council says it would like the associate (non-Test playing) nations to have their best players at the World Cup, and that surely means their best indigenous players. At the recent T20 World Cup, the Netherlands players all seemed to have Dutch surnames but southern hemisphere accents. Scotland will seemingly take anyone. A while back, they wrote to every single player in the 18 English counties – including the Irish-qualified ones – letting them know how to become a Scot for World Cup purposes.
CI is pouring considerable resources into its home-grown talent and will only consider importing if the player makes a commitment to Irish cricket. A good example is Tim Murtagh, the Middlesex seamer in his early 30s, who effectively sat on the Ireland bench for six months before being given his chance and who has rewarded Ireland handsomely.
With the World Cup just over seven months away, national coach Phil Simmons doesn’t have a whole heap of time to test the commitment of any potential imports, especially as this summer’s international programme is so sparse, with only a sprinkling of fixtures remaining against Sri Lanka A and Scotland. Pre-Christmas camps planned for New Zealand, Australia and the UAE may give him some scope for experiment, however.
Such a move will irritate those hoping for fewer foreign accents in the national team. Holdsworth says Ireland can’t afford such an attitude, however.
“The bottom line is we have to be on the look-out,” says Holdsworth. “We’re investing an awful lot in our young players, with a new national academy and an emerging players programme, but we would be almost conceited if we sat back thinking this is going to get us into Test cricket, and this is going to get us into the world cup.
“We have to keep challenging ourselves, to keep winning games, and to keep having the best cricketers playing for Ireland. If that means bringing one or two in from outside, for the right reasons, then so be it. Look at England, and how they do it.” Look at England, indeed.