Joyce leads cricket in Ireland to new heights

Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Dublin:James Joyce put Ireland on the literary map and now his namesake Ed has led the Country to cricketing glory.

If only Dublin-born playwright Samuel Beckett were alive to see it. Beckett was the only Nobel Prize laureate to play first-class cricket and his gloomy demeanors has been linked by some to his misfortune at having to follow Irish cricket.

Saints and scholars once abounded on the Emerald Isle but expert bowlers and batsmen were never in great supply.

Things, however, are changing. Ed Joyce, 26, a native of County Wicklow, is one of the top batsmen in the English County game and, for the first time, Irelands national team, with Joyces help, have qualified for the One-day cricket World Cup in 2007, creating a new level of interest in the sport.

"The World Cup is a big opportunity for us. Before the Irish soccer team qualified for the World Cup in 1990, football was no way as big as it is now," John Wright, the Irish Cricket Unions (ICU) Secretary, told to sources. "What we would hope, is that in a small way we would get the same sort of rub-off."

Followed with passion and played with mesmerising skill in many former parts of the British Empire, cricket in Ireland was traditionally dismissed as a foreign game and the preserve of a Protestant minority in a predominantly Catholic country.

Until 1971, the Gaelic Athletic Association banned players of Irish football and hurling from taking part in so-called "garrison games", played in British Army garrisons around Ireland before independence, such as cricket.

In recent times, however, the numbers playing and watching the sport have risen due to the efforts of the ICU and Irelands economic boom, which has brought an influx of immigrants from cricket-playing countries such as India, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia.

Betting on cricket has hit a record high at Irish bookmakers Paddy Power during the current Ashes series between England and Australia and a company spokesman said betting on Ireland should be good in 2007. "Once it gets to the World Cup we should see a lot of patriotic money for them."

The national side is a mixture of amateurs, semi-professionals and a couple of full-time players. Most hold down day jobs, from teaching to delivering the mail.

Joyce was key to Ireland securing their place at the World Cup but, in an ironic twist, the chances are that he will be playing in the tournament for England rather than Ireland. Joyce, who plays county cricket for English side Middlesex, qualified to play for England on July 1 having satisfied the residency requirement.

Playing for England would allow Joyce, one of nine children, four of who has played cricket for Ireland, to play Test cricket, the highest level in the sport.

If he gets the call, and many pundits believe that he will, Joyce will be the first born-and-bred Irishman to play Test cricket since the late 19th century. It would, however, preclude him from playing for the Country of his birth.

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