Ireland all buoyed up to tame Three Lions

When the fastest bowler Ireland has ever produced marks his run-up on this morning, most of the 10,000 spectators at Malahide Cricket Club will be willing him to fail.

For Derry-born Boyd Rankin will be wearing the red of England against an Ireland team he represented in two World Cups and three World Twenty20 tournaments. He will become the third Irish-born cricketer in the last decade to give up his Ireland career to play one-day international cricket for England, and all three will be in action when Ireland face England in the RSA Challenge ODI (10.30am).

Eoin Morgan will captain England, while Ed Joyce will represent Ireland, having chosen to re-qualify for the country of birth after poor performances in the 2007 World Cup ended his Three Lions career.

Ireland will be at full-strength aside from the injured all-rounder Alex Cusack, with veteran Andrew White likely to bat at seven instead.

Michael Carberry, Jamie Overton, Chris Jordan and Gary Ballance are likely to join Rankin in making their England ODI debut, in an experimental but still very talented starting 11.

Rankin has become a stronger, quicker and less injury-prone player since he started training during the winters with the England set-up, and Ireland captain William Porterfield hopes the Ireland fans will respect Rankin’s decision to swap allegiances.

“Hopefully he will get the same reaction as the other 10 England lads,” Porterfield said. “There will 9,000 Ireland fans in here, and I hope they treat everybody the same.”

Rankin is likely to receive a sympathetic reception, as most Irish cricket supporters recognise that the 29-year-old opted for England to try to realise his ambitions of playing Test cricket. As an associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), Ireland are currently precluded from playing Tests, and the only pathway open for an Irishman to play the long form of the game is to qualify for England.

Rankin agonised over the decision to end his Ireland career, but retains an enthusiasm for the game back home. He is an active presence on social media site Twitter and often posts on Irish inter-provincial and club cricket.

Morgan’s relationship with his homeland is a lot more complicated. As a teenager, he openly stated his intention was to play Test cricket for England, and realised that ambition when he made his debut against Bangladesh at Lord’s in 2010.

The Dubliner remains popular with his former Ireland team-mates, and one of the stand-out sights after the 2011 ODI between Ireland and England at Clontarf was Porterfield and Morgan, still in full kit, chatting over a drink on a bench outside the pavilion.

There is disquiet among supporters, however, at Morgan’s refusal to acknowledge the effect England’s poaching of their best players has had on Ireland’s aspirations to join the top tier of Test-playing nations.

In yesterday’s press conference, Morgan was asked about Paul Stirling, the talented, hard-hitting Ireland opening batsman who many fear may be next on England’s radar.

“Paul doesn’t qualify [for England under residency rules] for another year and a half, and it’s disappointing from his perspective because he’s so talented,” Morgan said. “He has the capability to play international cricket on a regular basis, and I am sure he’ll press his case over the next couple of years. If he wants to play for England he will take the route of going through the system, and from there, kicking on.”

With a capacity crowd at the purpose-built ‘pop-up’ stadium at Malahide, and the game broadcast on Sky Sports in Ireland and Britain and ESPN across the globe, Porterfield hopes the next generation will watch the game and see a long-term future for themselves as Ireland cricketers.

“This is hopefully a showpiece that highlights that players don’t necessarily have to take the step to go and play for England,” he said. “I hope that in future it won’t be necessary for players to cross the water to play more international cricket, and that it will instead be here on their doorstep.”

The RSA Challenge ODI, Malahide Cricket Club (10.30am start — a limited number of tickets are still available from the Cricket Ireland website).

Ireland (probable): William Porterfield (capt), Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Niall O’Brien, Gary Wilson, Kevin O’Brien, Andrew White, Max Sorensen, Trent Johnston, Tim Murtagh, George Dockrell.

England (probable): Michael Carberry, James Taylor, Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan (capt), Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, James Tredwell, Jamie Overton, Steven Finn, Boyd Rankin.

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