RE-JOYCE

Timing is critical to most things in life. Being in the right place at the right time can beneficially alter the entire course of oneís life while of course bad timing can have a disastrous impact. In cricket timing has more than one meaning as was perfectly demonstrated by Ed Joyce in Malahide this week.

In scoring 231, the classiest batman ever produced by Ireland achieved the highest score in the history of Irish international cricket which stretches back to September 1855. The timing of his knock could not have been more crucial as it came in what is arguably the most important match in this countryís cricket history.

If this generation of Ireland players are to be the first to play Test cricket a full 20 points win over UAE at home is essential to achieving the Holy Grail of winning the Intercontinental Cup and participating in the Test Challenge which will be almost certainly against Zimbabwe in 2018. Unlike most previous editions of this cup there will be no final thereby giving the runners-up no second chance.

So it is a case of topping the table after the last round of matches or trying to keep focused until at least 2022. Few of this team will still be in realistic contention by then and given the difficulties that are attached to qualification for future editions of the 50 over World Cup this conceivably could be the last opportunity to participate at the highest level of the sport.

Ed Joyce understands this perfectly and talking to him on Tuesday evening following his epic innings he had a steely eyed determination to not only qualify but keep going to at least the Test Challenge and if his body holds up take his rightful place in Irelandís debut Test. During his innings he also amply displayed the other definition of timing when the majority of his 29 fours were exquisitely stoked rather than bludgeoned to the rope.

There are few batsmen in world cricket who can cut the ball as late as Joyce while his cover drives could be taken direct from a coaching video. He laterally has begun to clear the boundary for maximums with much greater regularity than for most of his career, particularly favouring the swivel pull. It would be an injustice should Joyce never get the opportunity to play in a Test as he is certainly one of the best from any nation not to be capped in the purist form of the game.

However professional sport is a ruthless business and any sentiment that exists is usually reserved for the aftermath of retirement. It may be another two years before we know if this golden era of Irish cricket is in its dying embers or about to reach a level unimaginable a decade ago. The one thing we can be certain of is that Edmund Christopher Joyce will be straining every sinew to ensure it is the latter.

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In sports that Ireland compete in at international level it is rare to have the luxury of a large extended squad with the requisite quality. This is largely due to the relatively small population and many competing sports and therefor it is often said that is harder to get off a squad than get into it.

Cricket tends to be no exception and only Andrew Balbirnie has managed to break the stranglehold on the top seven in the Ireland order. In fairness those regulars of several years have merited their places with their performances but it is also true that unless there is pressure from younger players complacency can be a debilitating factor.

Therefore it was good to see that the T20 World Cup Qualifiers squad announced last week contains no less than five members who were not in Bangladesh for last yearís finals.

Of the five changes to the squad only John Mooney, who was not available for Bangladesh, could be considered as part of the old guard. The other four, Andrew Balbirnie, Stuart Poynter, Graeme Mc Carter and Tyrone Kane are very much the next generation with Balbirnie in particular having a meteoric rise in all three formats of the game.

Poynter owes his place to a spectacular century for Ireland last July in Stormont against Sri Lanka A which have been supplemented this season with several explosive innings for Durham second eleven.

Stuart may feel a twinge of regret as his selection is almost certainly at the expense of his brother Andrew who scored a 38 ball 57 in Irelandís last T20 match which was of course that spectacular implosion against the Dutch in Sylhet.

Graeme McCarter has rebounded well from the disappointment of losing his county contract with Gloucestershire, which ironically happened when new Ireland coach John Bracewell was in charge of the West Country side.

However McCarter was at his most potent for Gloucestershire in the T20 format which included the rarity of a five wicket haul in an innings, something which Bracewell will have taken into account when the squad was selected.

The final spot is the most interesting as Tyrone Kane has been the subject of much speculation about his potential for a couple of years. Kane will turn 21 at the start of the tournament and effectively owes his selection to form in the interprovincial matches and in particular a stunning return of 5-15 in a T20 match for Leinster Lightning against Northwest Warriors a couple of weeks ago.

His twelve overs to date this year in the T20 interpros has brought him 9 wickets for just 47 runs. He is also a useful lower order batsman and given the paucity in Irelandís seam bowling resources he could be the Andrew Balbirnie of this tournament.

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There has been speculation in recent days that the possibility exists of a reorganisation of the county championship and that Ireland may be invited to participate. It has been muted that there would be three divisions of seven teams each playing the other teams in the division on a home and away basis.

The third division would comprise the bottom four teams of the current second division plus Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands although it is highly unlikely that the latter would have the resources to compete. Allowing for travelling and practise, participation would mean a commitment of some 72 days and effectively mean that if an Irish eleven was involved they would become full time cricketers for the summer.

I say Irish eleven as Cricket Ireland are adamant that it would not be labelled as a full Ireland side. When I chatted to Richard Holdsworth on Tuesday about the concept he was in favour but saw it purely as a development tool to give the home based players and possibly some English based players who are in county second elevens the opportunity to play four day cricket.

He recognises that the gap between the inter-pros and the international scene is still too wide especially with the focus on challenging for Test status. Participation would be a costly exercise, estimated as being in excess of E250,000 and would require funding from ICC and the ECB.

There would have to be a lot of hurdles to be overcome, not least the agreement of the county sides, particularly those in the second division. There is no value in any further speculation at this time until something more concrete emerges and then we can determine if there is genuine merit in Irelandís involvement.