Boyd Rankin, the 27-year-old 6 ft 7 in fast bowler, is one of the most familiar Ireland cricketers. Having played in two World Cups and for Warwickshire over much of the past three seasons, Rankin has also been a part of the ECB's (English Cricket Board) development programme. In Dubai as part of the ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate (AM) XI to face England for a three-day match at the Global Cricket Academy, he spoke to Cricketnext about the prospect of pledging allegiance to England.
You're pretty geared up to represent England, aren't you?
To play Test cricket is my ultimate goal. I don’t see it happening for Ireland, though it would be a dream to do so. I know the reality, and that's why I am ready to play for England at Test-match level.
I'm a part of the England Lions squad to play in Bangladesh next month, and see that as a stepping stone to reaching the England team. I've also been part of the ECB’s development programme, but the Bangladesh tour will be my first representative games for England.
I have to keep pushing myself and make sure I'm capable of playing Test cricket. I've got my head down and working hard to achieve my ambition. In the mean time I am fully committed to playing for Ireland. But I know that to play Test cricket I have to target the England squad.
But how does Ireland cricket grow if players are picked up by the ECB?
It's difficult, I understand. But you have to know the reality. Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan knew that to play Test cricket they had to move to England. Eoin achieved that. It's not easy leaving your country to play elsewhere but when that's the only way to achieve your goals, how do you resist? It is a tough choice, but one that a few of us have to make. Players who do so are criticised, I know. But at the end of the day you have to put your own interests ahead of everything else.
Would you say you've done your bit to champion the cause of the Associates?
I don't really look at it that way. There have been better players who have gone on to achieve a lot, such as Eoin. I think he and Ed were the leaders in that respect, to show that Associate players can go on to compete at the highest level. They learned all their cricket playing for Ireland and then realised they had to move on.
Over the last four of five years Irish cricket has really grown. We have experienced players who play county cricket and who have achieved success at the one-day level. More lads have come along and done well, such as Kevin O'Brien and William Porterfield. George Dockrell is another exciting talent.
What is holding back Irish cricket?
First of all we need more funding. Our domestic structure has improved a lot, but we need to be playing against higher quality teams, and especially in first-class cricket. As an Associate member we have led the way forward, but now we need to be challenged further.
At the 2007 World Cup we beat Pakistan, and then in 2011 we beat England. We could have beaten India but failed to close out the game. These matches show that we can compete, if given more opportunities to play top-class teams. How else can we expect to get better?
After the 2007 World Cup I don't think we have got as many opportunities as we would've liked. We need more support from the ICC, financially mainly. I think Ireland should be allowed to play Test cricket against the lower-ranked teams such as Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe.
We have been a very good Associate side for some time now. We won the ICC Intercontinental Cup three times, we won the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers in 2008 and the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier, and we've been in two World Cups. We have played limited-overs cricket in England too. But we need to be tested against top-class opposition.
You signed a contract with Middlesex in 2004-05. Why did you choose Middlesex? Was it because of the Irish connection of Joyce and Morgan?
Yes, that's what it was about. Eoin and Ed had been there, and I was just 18 or 19 and didn't know anything about the set-up or people in England. It was familiarity that drew me to Middlesex.
The Middlesex period wasn’t that productive, was it?
Not really. I didn't break into the First XI and knew that moving elsewhere would give me more opportunities. The coaches were trying to remodel my action and I got a bit confused. That's when Derbyshire offered me a contract and I gladly signed on. Mike Hendrick, the bowling coach at Derby, was very encouraging. He was the one who invited me over to the club.
I was geared up at the chance of getting more opportunities but unfortunately an injury (side strain) cut short my season. Despite this, Derybyshire offered me a contract extension. I declined it and signed with Warwickshire instead, where I've had a thoroughly rewarding time.
You seem to have settled at Edgbaston.
It's a very competitive atmosphere. The guys are great at Warwickshire and I feel at home there. I have had some injury issues with Warwickshire but being a regular member of the playing XI has helped me improve a lot. Bowling a lot of overs is important to a bowler's progress and in that regard I feel I've come along well. The four-day format is the most challenging and rewarding.
What have you learned from Phil Simmons, Ireland's coach?
Simmo is a great guy, very laidback but very professional. That has helped the guys play to their ability. He has shared his experience of playing for West Indies, which was insightful. He has followed each one of us closely and has been supportive of everyone. He works on our strengths and weaknesses closely. He's pretty much all you could ask for in a coach.
You come from a family of cricket players ...
My dad played club cricket, my brothers Robert and Dave both played for Ireland Under-19. My sister too has played regional cricket. We're a family of cricketers. Growing up, cricket was a big talking point at home.
Who has had the biggest impact on you as a cricketer?
My family is very supportive, obviously, but in terms of guidance it would be Mike Hendrick, my former bowling coach at Derbyshire. He spotted my talent and really encouraged me. We worked on my bowling, my run-up, and the mechanics of fast bowling. His advice was very helpful and I credit a lot of my success to him. I learned a lot about the art of fast bowling from Hendo.
Any players you looked up to?
As a tall fast bowler, I looked at those similar in physical stature. Curtley Ambrose and Glenn McGrath were inspirations. I would watch them on TV a lot, studying how they ran in and delivered the ball, how they physically imposed themselves. I tried to emulate how they would bang it in just back of a length outside off stump.