Though others have provided Ireland's defining moments, their monumental rise couldn't have happened without the player many consider their greatest.
In a way, it’s fitting that Ed Joyce’s retirement comes in the wake of that of AB de Villiers. Though both have been vital to their countries’ causes, it is inevitable that the latter will draw attention away from the former. You imagine Joyce, a considered, softly spoken individual who has never particularly sought the spotlight, won’t mind; in fact, he might even be a little grateful.
It is almost 20 years to the day he first played for Ireland, in the Benson & Hedges Cup (then county cricket’s one-day competition) against Glamorgan, top scoring in a heavy defeat, and ever since, barring a five-year gap in which he attempted to break into England’s Test side, he has been the rock upon which Ireland’s batting has been built.
Though he has rarely been the one to steal the headlines, all are in agreement that he is the best to have played for Ireland. In a decade his team have spent breaking new ground, he has almost always been there contributing, and little of it could have happened without him.
Going back to the Cricket World Cup 2007, at which cricket in Ireland was changed forever by the St. Patrick’s Day shock of Pakistan, Joyce played his part without even being there. By that time Joyce had switched alleigances to England – in fact he made his ODI debut against Ireland rather than for them – but. Ireland might never have made it to that tournament in the first place had it not been for his efforts: Joyce made two hundreds and two half-centuries in five innings, averaging just under 100 at the ICC Trophy, the qualifying tournament for that World Cup.
Then at the Cricket World Cup 2011, when Kevin O’Brien smashed potentially the greatest ODI hundred of all time, Joyce was there, laying the foundations with 32. The closest he came to stealing the show was at the Cricket World Cup 2015, when he made a hundred against Zimbabwe in victory. But even that hardly felt remarkable, having come in the wake of Ireland’s win against West Indies, in which Joyce made a brilliant 84 from 67, but was overshadowed by Paul Stirling who made 92 to claim the Player of the Match award. Between times, away from the television cameras, he was an Intercontinental Cup God; in first-class cricket for Ireland he averaged 58.21, and made this country’s highest-ever score of 231.
Just last week, when making his Test debut for Ireland in a match he had campaigned and work as hard as any to make happen, he laid a vital platform in a match that will be remembered for Kevin O’Brien’s hundred. With Ireland having been made to follow on, their inaugural Test could have descended into ignominy. Instead, Joyce, along with Ireland captain William Porterfield, battled through 26 overs to the close.
“I’d batted twice in a day not many times in my career, especially not in that kind of pressure, in a home Test match with a lot of eyes on you worldwide to see how you’re going to go,” he said. “There were a lot of people saying we could get bowled out again for 130. We managed to fight through to the end of play that day with a bit of luck and I was proud that we showed a bit of fight at the end of the third day. That’s all that Graham Ford asked of us was to show a lot of fight and we also showed a lot of skill.”
It speaks volumes of someone who would always put the team first that the moment he remembers most fondly isn’t from his innings, but one that gave Ireland a sniff of a remarkable victory. “Ridiculously it’s probably the catch I took because to get them two down,” he said. “Tim was bowling so well and Boyd’s a tough customer when he’s on song, we felt we had something to bowl at. It was a pretty good catch from myself if you don’t mind me saying. That was probably the moment, when they were 14/2 and Tim bowled Shafiq afterwards I thought we were probably favourites.”
Ireland legend @edjoyce24 has announced his retirement from cricket, signing off from a fantastic career after appearing in Ireland's maiden men's Test. Best of luck for the future, Ed! 🙌https://t.co/sr2hS7wOASpic.twitter.com/m369BvhhTu— ICC (@ICC) May 24, 2018
Joyce isn’t just the most naturally talented batsman Ireland have ever produced, he is also, in temperament, technique, and desire, their most naturally suited to Test cricket. Such is demonstrated by his average in the Intercontinental Cup, his years of success in county cricket, where he scored 1,000 runs in seven consecutive seasons and averaged 48.05 for Middlesex and Sussex. He describes his Test debut as the “be all and end all” and T20 as “a bit of a sideshow”, and it could be considered something of a sadness that his first Test has become his last.
But Joyce will know he has contributed more than most, perhaps any to Irish cricket. A knee injury, the need to blood youth, a team he sees as being able to fill his shoes, all these have helped make the decision of someone who has always been able to maintain perspective, and who has always been happy for it not to be about him.
And besides, Joyce will still be integral to Ireland’s success, having taken on a role overseeing leadership development and as a batting coach in the Irish performance system, something he will surely find as perfect a fit as playing cricket was. Ed Joyce’s contribution to Irish cricket has been immense and it would appear that, even in retirement, he is far from finished.
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