Home Interviews Boyd Rankin, Ireland and former England fast bowler

Boyd Rankin, Ireland and former England fast bowler

by Freddie

This month we’re delighted to be speaking to the first player to have represented two countries in all three formats of the game, former England and current Ireland fast bowler, Boyd Rankin. Boyd’s story is a really interesting one, from representing Ireland, to making his England ODI debut (against Ireland!), to an Ashes tour, to numerous county cricket successes in between. There’s so much to cover.

As always though, we start at the beginning; what got this kid from County Tyrone into cricket over other, perhaps more popular Irish sports? “Well, it was my Dad. He played for a local club which was literally half a mile away from our family farm. So, I’d spend a lot of my younger years down at the club where my Dad was heavily involved. He was either chairman or on the various committees and he obviously played a bit as well. So, it was through him that I got my love of cricket. I actually started quite late though and probably didn’t play my first game until I was seven or eight. I also played a lot at school and at my primary school we used to have an Indian guy called Bobby Rao, who was a professional for one of the clubs, who’d come in and coach us. He was tasked with going around local schools and coaching and I learnt a huge amount from him.”

He obviously coached the right stuff because from the age of 13 Boyd was already getting recognition from the Irish selectors, as he quickly worked his way through the Irish age group sides. “Most of my cricket growing up came in those Irish age groups sides. I played under 13, 15, 17 and 19s – playing senior 1st XI cricket for my club side also helped, I was in the 1st XI from the age of 13. This certainly helped me in the long run as I was always playing a better standard than others at my age. I was obviously bigger than everyone else (Boyd is now 6ft 8!) so when I was 13, I was probably the size of a normal 16/17-year-old. The club cricket we played was always a good standard as the overseas player had to be a first-class cricketer. So, we had the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Ridley Jacobs, Kamran Akmal, and that helped me with the strides I made in those early years to get me to that under-19 level.”

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And it was at 19, that Boyd made his senior Ireland debut. I was keen to understand from him the kinds of fixtures that the Irish were able to play in those formative years. “It was normally the European teams, so Scotland, Holland, Denmark, as well as playing England’s under 17 side for example against our U19 team, plus a number of county teams.”

And it was a tour over to England when county sides began taking notice of the young Irish bower. “Eoin Morgan and I both made our debuts on that tour against the Free Forresters at Eton College and it was during this tour that we he had a few different people from counties come and watch. Keith Fletcher from Essex came, someone from Northants came and others, and on the back of that tour I was invited over to Middlesex for a trial. The challenge was, I couldn’t make it back over as it was the back end of the summer and I was about to go off to university. Thankfully they took a punt on me and offered me a contract for the following summer, without the need for a trial.”

Boyd played for Middlesex during the 2004 and 2005 summers, but openly admits it was an experience that was a huge learning curve. “I remember the first time I rocked up it was a for a fitness session and I’d just come over on the back of my first year at uni, where it’s fair to say I enjoyed the beers and the takeaways! I don’t think I’d ever really stepped inside a gym until that point, so I wasn’t really in great shape; but I didn’t really know any different, it was steep learning curve.”

I asked Boyd, if the fact there were handful of other Irish cricketers in the ranks at Middlesex made the move easier? “Absolutely. One of the reasons I chose Middlesex was that Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan were there so that Irish connection definitely helped. Eoin and I actually lived together for the two years that I was at Middlesex.”

And how did the two summers go on the pitch? “I thought I did reasonably well, considering. I did well in the second team, but I never really got the opportunity to break into the first team. I remember there was one point where we were down to the bare bones in terms of injuries to the bowlers and I felt I had a good chance of playing but it just didn’t happen for me.”

With opportunities limited at Middlesex, an opportunity arose for Boyd at Derbyshire. “Mike Hendrick, the bowling coach at Derbyshire, was doing some work with the Irish bowlers in Dublin, and my university was based near Derby so he just said to come and train with them over the winter and on the back of a few sessions I ended up signing for the following summer. And when I started working with ‘Hendo’ I felt I was getting somewhere with my bowling and I had a good 2006 season. I improved a hell of a lot and I made my List A debut for them towards the end of that season.”

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Boyd’s progress at Derby saw him named in Ireland’s World Cup squad that winter. This was the tournament where Ireland upset pre-tournament predictions and qualified from the group stages ahead of Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

“That tournament was a bit surreal to be honest. We just went there to try and take it all in and experience being in the Caribbean, which of course is a great place to be! We knew that in our group we had Zimbabwe, West Indies and Pakistan; and we set out thinking that we knew we could beat Zimbabwe, and if we turned up on the right day, we could beat Pakistan and the same with the West Indies. To us, it wasn’t as if any of those teams were just going to turn up and beat us ten times out of ten. We just felt if we had a good day there was no reason, we couldn’t beat any of them. When we turned up against Pakistan and saw that wicket and it was as green as it was, we thought we had a really good chance. We had belief and I guess we also felt we had nothing to lose in that competition. We were there, we were having fun, we were enjoying ourselves away from cricket as well – which I think was important. I suppose it’d never really happen these days, but we had a really good six weeks! In all my time with Ireland, I think that tournament was probably the greatest achievement, to go there and put in the performances the way we did against some of the best teams in the World, it was brilliant. I know we had a few heavy defeats in the tournament as well, but in between those we showed what we could do and put Irish cricket on the map.”

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And what did Boyd personally take away from the tournament?

“I gained a lot of confidence knowing I could compete against some of the best players in the World and that set me up for the 2007 season with Derby.”

Indeed, it did. Boyd started that 2007 season with an ‘8-for’ against his old county, Middlesex. But then injury struck.

“After that Middlesex game, I played a couple more championship games before picking up an injury, which was frustrating, but I guess it’s part and parcel of cricket.”

At the back end of that 2007 season, interest in Boyd from other counties was growing and that interest was particularly strong from Warwickshire.

“I spoke to Ashley Giles and I just felt it was the right club for me at the right time. Allan Donald had just become bowling coach and I’ll be honest that did play a big part in my decision. Yorkshire were also interested, and I went and met both clubs and it was a big decision for me in terms of which club to go for, but I just felt Warwickshire suited me better.”

And what was it like to work under Allan Donald? “He was great. I remember that winter we spent a lot of time working on a few technical issues I knew I needed to work on and pretty much spent the whole winter working with him. Even small things such as AD would always be keen to have a pint and I’d end up spending quite a few evenings just having a pint with him and chatting about cricket.”

Warwickshire was definitely the right move for Boyd, and the county enjoyed a period of sustained success.

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“Winning the championship in 2012 was a big highlight for me, alongside the 2014 T20 and a couple of other one-day titles. It was a good period for the club and Ashley Giles had built up a really good squad in those initial two or three years that he was in charge. I’ll always remember that 2014 season where we won the T20, came runners-up in the 50 over comp and second in the championship; a bit of luck and a few different results and we could potentially have won all three competitions.”

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Away from the county scene. Ireland was continuing to put themselves on the World map. In 2008 they won their third ICC Intercontinental Cup, beating Namibia in the final by 9 wickets. That same year they won their third European Cricket Championship and in 2009 they qualified for the World T20 in England and the 2011 50-over World Cup in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka – this was the tournament they successfully chased down England’s total of 327 for a famous victory.

I was keen to hear from Boyd, on how hard it was for Ireland, knowing the more successful they became, the more players they would lose to England, citing Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce as two examples of players they were to lose. “It was one hundred percent hard. For players like Eoin and Ed, England was a natural progression for them as they were so good. We didn’t play regular cricket and they had aspirations to play Test cricket. As players, we were becoming more professional, but Ireland weren’t at that point yet. The likes of Ed Joyce, myself, Eoin, William Porterfield etc, we were playing county cricket, living in England, playing all of our cricket in England and then by compliance going back home to represent Ireland. Irish cricket wanted to become more professional, but they just didn’t have the money to employ cricketers full time. The flip side now is Ireland are more professional, but as a result it’s harder for our young players to go and play county cricket, so while it’s great we now have Test status, we have probably shot ourselves in the foot to some degree as our young players aren’t getting exposed to the strength of the competitions in England. We are getting there with our structure, but if I look at myself, I learnt a lot of my cricket in the county scene.”

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Despite losing players, the Irish team still went from strength to strength. “Up to the 2019 World Cup, we qualified for every World Cup. Of course, it was hard to lose players to England, but it did give opportunities to others, who maybe might not otherwise have played. I just think with Irish cricket it doesn’t really matter what team we put out, we’ll always try and fight our hardest.”

During that successful period for Irish cricket, I was interested to know what Boyd’s personal highlights were. “That Pakistan game was obviously one. Bangladesh as well when we beat them in Barbados as that proved the Pakistan game wasn’t just a one-off. The 2009 T20 in England when we beat Bangladesh again was special and then of course the England game in 2011!”

Oh, the England game. Having been set 327, Ireland chased it down. I wanted to paper over that, but I guess that would be remiss of me.

“What a game, although I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the last half hour in the changing rooms with my pads on! Thankfully I wasn’t needed. It was actually Andrew Strauss’ birthday that day, it obviously wasn’t a good birthday for him, having just been beat; but I remember that night, him and Paul Collingwood came down to the bar in the hotel just to have a drink and chat with a few of us who he knew from Middlesex etc and there were quite a lot of Irish fans that had turned up to the hotel and word got around it was Straussy’s birthday and the whole place starting singing happy birthday, it was very funny!”

I thought this was an opportunity to find out what goes through the mind of a tailender when a run chase like that is happening and you could be due in. “That was such an up and down game, in that at one point we were something like 90 for 4 or 5 and you think we’re beat here and there’s no chance. Kevin (O’Brien) then started to get a few away and then he’d get a few more away and a few more and you then start thinking, ‘$hit we might actually do this’. The closer and closer we got, the more nervous you became in the dressing room. There was a lot less chat, and I remember it was just getting more and more intense. Thankfully I wasn’t needed!”

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Now, Boyd’s success for Ireland and in county cricket, put him on the radar of England and he was soon to follow in the footsteps of Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce.

“To be honest I was sort of on their radar as early as 2007, when I was working with Kevin Shine who was then also the England fast bowling lead. During the winter I would always be up doing stuff with him. We actually went to Florida for a six-week training camp in 2009 so I was kind of always in their minds from the time I joined Warwickshire. So, they were obviously keeping an eye on me. And then in 2011 and 2012 I was on various Lions tours and it got to the point in 2012 where I was playing for Warwickshire, I was playing for Ireland and I was playing for England Lions and I was getting injuries because of playing too much cricket. So, it got to the backend of 2012 where I had to make a decision. Ashley Giles who was my coach at Warwickshire basically said if I wanted to give England a good shot then I’m going to have to give up Ireland, concentrate on Warwickshire and go from there. So that’s what I did, and I put all of my efforts on trying to get selected for England. It was a massive decision, but I think it was made easier for me because I knew I was playing too much cricket, and something had to give. My sole desire was to play the highest level of cricket I could. England play Test cricket and Ireland didn’t, so it was as simple as that really. Ireland were great, they understood my decision and similar to Eoin and Ed they weren’t going to stand in my way.”

The following summer Boyd received his first England call up when he was called up as a replacement for the one-day series against New Zealand.

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“I remember I was driving back from Sussex where we’d played a day/nighter, when I received a phone call from Geoff Miller saying they were adding me to the squad. It all happened so quickly, but I was obviously over the moon. I didn’t play in that series, but off the back of that I got selected for the T20s. Eoin Morgan was captain of that side as well, which was great for me and he made a nice little speech. I’ve known Eoin a long, long time so that was nice. The game itself was a bit of a blur but I felt I did okay. It was a packed house at the Oval. I remember it was quite a high scoring game, and we didn’t quite get over the line.”

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Boyd’s 50 over debut soon followed, with his debut against…. Ireland! Oh, how the fixture calendar works!

“You couldn’t make it up. There was a big crowd in Dublin, 10 or 12,000. It was a very strange experience. Just even going out for the warm-ups before the game and going into the England camp and looking over at the Ireland camp thinking, ‘gee there’s all my mates’. I wouldn’t want too many people to make their debut against their old team! We were in a bit of bother at one point chasing, but thankfully Ravi (Bopara) and Eoin managed to get us over the line. I picked up a few wickets as well, so it was a good day!”

And then came Boyd’s first Test tour when he was selected for England’s infamous 2013/14 Ashes series, making his debut in the final Test at Sydney.

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“I played the one-day series against Australia at the back end of the home season and I did really well and off the back of that I thought I had a good chance of getting selected. I got a phone call again from Geoff Miller saying I was in the squad, so I was over the moon. I never dreamt that I would get picked for an Ashes squad for England, so it was great. It was a surreal kind of period where everything just seemed to happen really quickly for me. It was obviously a very tough tour to go on for my first one and was certainly a learning curve. It was tough for everyone on that trip. I enjoyed travelling around Australia and I just tried to keep my head down and work hard to try and force my way in to get a game. I obviously did that for the final Test but looking back I probably shouldn’t have played. A few days out from that Test I hurt my shoulder. I didn’t find out until I got back from Australia that I basically had torn all of the cartilage out from it, three days going into the Test match. It was one of those that once I was told I was going to play, I thought well I might not get another opportunity and even though my shoulder was hanging off, I’ve got to play. It wasn’t great, I was literally drugged up with all sorts on that first morning. It obviously led to a few other issues during the game, with cramping up and everything else. I’ve never really been a cramper and I literally came in at lunch on the first day and I have never had so many cramps in my life in my legs as I did then. It was what it was, but I was pretty proud to have got through it and played. Following that Test, I was also in the T20 and ODI squads. I tried to play the one-day games, I managed to get through a couple of spells, but I couldn’t do it anymore.”

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That Test match was to be Boyd’s only Test appearance for England. And while it didn’t go to plan, a Test match (and wicket) at the Sydney Cricket Ground is still something all of us would dream of, and no one could ever take that away from him.

On Boyd’s return from Australia and with the injury diagnosed, he was given two options; an operation or do loads of rehab, strengthen up the muscles and try and get through the county season with injections. He chose the latter, but what followed was that magical summer when the Bears nearly won the treble.

“I basically had to have an injection every six weeks throughout the season to take the pain away. The first two or three balls I bowled in every warm-up was absolute agony but after doing loads of rehab and the injections, I slowly managed to get through the start of the season.”

I asked Boyd how it affected his bowling that season? “It wasn’t too bad and when you’re in the heat of a battle the adrenalin definitely takes over.”

And what about England was it difficult not to get another chance?

“Yeah definitely. I just felt I didn’t show my true potential in that Test match in Sydney. That’s probably the most frustrating thing as I didn’t get another opportunity after that.”

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But it wasn’t the end for Boyd in international cricket. With the England door closed, the Ireland one was re-opening.

“I didn’t know it was possible to go back to play for Ireland. I thought that was it. I thought you had to go four or five years not playing for a country to qualify, but during that period it was reduced to two years, so I was quite lucky. I actually had an opportunity to play in the 2015 World Cup for Ireland as the ICC were going to give me special dispensation to come back early and play, but I felt it was too early for me. I still felt I had an opportunity to play for England at that point as I’d just had a good winter with the England A side, in which I did pretty well. So, I gave it until the end of the 2015 season and when I didn’t get selected on any tours that winter, I thought I’m probably not going to get picked again so I made myself available for Ireland.”

And how easy was it slotting back in? “It was pretty straight forward to be honest. I knew pretty much all of the players. William Porterfield was captain, I played with him at Warwickshire, so he was always on at me to come back and play, so I felt at home pretty much straightaway. It was just a very different environment to England and a lot less pressured.”

And during this period, Ireland were elevated to Test status, allowing Boyd to add to that one Test cap. “That was really special. All of my friends and family came to Dublin to watch the game against Pakistan and I managed to pick up Ireland’s first Test wicket as well.”

And then in 2019 came that famous performance at Lords when the Irish bowled England out for just 85 in the 1st innings of Ireland’s first Test match at the home of cricket.

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“That was just surreal! It was such a great occasion to be playing at Lords. There was a pretty big crowd and I felt we were in the game up until the third morning but Broady and Woakesy obviously had other ideas, but that first innings was obviously one we’ll all cherish for a long time.”

I was also keen to hear from Boyd where he feels Irish cricket is at right now. “We’re obviously in the ODI league now so we’re playing more regular white ball cricket and we’re in the future tours programme as well. But we’re struggling to get Test matches – we haven’t played a Test match since that England game. And that’s purely down to finance and the amount it costs to put a Test match on. I think that the Test match against Pakistan cost something like a million dollars to put on. It’s a lot of money. We obviously get funding from the ICC, but I guess we have to be wise on how that is spent, and white ball cricket is probably more important at the moment, what with the T20 world cups coming up over the next few years.”

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It makes sense.

And how strong is domestic cricket? “It’s growing every year. We’ve just added a fourth team. There are 12-man squads for each team so that gives the selectors a group of around 50 players to select from, and there’s 23 or 24 full time contracts on offer now. It’s moving in the right direction but it’s down to finance really.”

I also asked Boyd about the current strength of associate cricket around the World. “The associates are focusing a lot on T20 cricket, so the likes of Holland, Scotland, Papa New Guinea, Nepal etc they’re actually really good T20 teams. The T20 qualifiers were in Dubai 18 month ago now, but all of the games were very close and extremely competitive. So, I think associate cricket is in a really good place right now. It won’t be long before the likes of Scotland and Holland will push for full member status and for me the more teams involved the stronger world cricket will become.”

And what’s the future for Boyd Rankin? “I’d love to play in the T20 World Cup at the back end of the year, that’s my immediate aim at the moment. Looking past that, I’d like to try and give back to the young kids coming through now. I did my level 3 coaching badge a few years ago so feel I have a lot I can give back to the next generation.”

If that was to be the case, young Irish bowlers would be in safe hands.

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