Familiar face that could end Ireland's glory run

ED JOYCE has always dreamed of playing Test cricket. With that in mind, it's fair to assume he watched past World Cups with more than a casual desire to get involved. To play Test cricket, he had to leave Ireland behind. To play World Cup cricket, he also had to leave Ireland behind. Right?

Wrong. Lo and behold, Ireland lock horns with England today in the Super 8 phase of the quadrennial showpiece and in a fair and logical world, Ireland would have their greatest-ever player on their side, not standing in their way as they try to contrive an unforgettable upset to overshadow even the toppling of Pakistan.

No wise punter would stake his savings on either team reaching the semi-finals, so the English and Irish will more than likely be sharing a plane home in three weeks' time, reflecting on parallel experiences. But Joyce would struggle to laugh off the irony if his old team was to sneak through at his new team's expense.

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The England opener should be representing Ireland at these championships, and in any other sport he would be. Intriguingly, the Irish survived the group-phase cull in the Caribbean without his aid, whereas England were hugely indebted to his runs as they kept Canada (against whom he scored 66) and Kenya (75) at bay. There could be a very fine line between the two teams' margins of success or failure over the next fortnight, and the contribution of one class batsman might tip the scales.

The Irish public have jammed radio phone-ins to voice their disapproval, and if Joyce stars in a tight England victory in Guyana, the racket might reach Croke Park proportions. Doubtless some critics are moved not by the anomaly but by the nature of the transition. Transferring allegiances to England will always be regarded as an act of disloyalty, even treason. But those attuned to the historic complexities of the cricket scene have backed Joyce to the hilt, with justification: he wants to reach the top of the professional game, not the amateur one, and nobody can fault his determination to play Test cricket, a level out of Ireland's reach. Moreover, he will always be a credit to the scene in which he was reared.

However, when the World Cup is viewed in isolation, the rules create a conflict of interest and leave an ambitious player with no choice but to blur the nationality lines. The ICC Trophy, in which Joyce scored 399 runs on home soil in 2005, contains only one objective: to finish high enough to gain a place at the World Cup. There is a glaring hole in continuity if, further down that path, the hero of the qualifying campaign becomes the villain who sends a team home.

Joyce could not afford to be picky when England came calling last summer. In cricket, if you want to make the leap from obscurity to fame and fortune, there is only one basket for your eggs. The timing of his conversion was unfortunate, but only the most stubborn patriot would have said no to Duncan Fletcher, an Ashes tour and a carrot as tempting as anything - the prospect of six-figure annual earnings.

A true green Irishman from an institutional cricket family in Bray, Joyce propelled Ireland into this World Cup, but at the end of his fourth year as a professional at Middlesex, he became eligible for selection for England. The inevitable summons sent him on a path to untold fame and fortune, but also on a road to notoriety as the first cricketer to represent two countries in the same campaign. Ireland's highly-rated Eoin Morgan, his Middlesex team-mate, might just become the second in four years' time.

On 1 January, 2000, the International Rugby Board closed the loopholes that had permitted players to become dual internationals. In cricket, the distance between the haves and have-nots necessitates a degree of compromise, but it would make more sense if the ICC distinguished between Test cricket and World Cup cricket, which is accessible to all. This spring, Joyce's England career would surely not have suffered by his involvement in Ireland's amazing escape from their Jamaican group.

A player who wins selection for his land of professional domicile can only represent his native country after four years in international exile. That is a term familiar to Scotland's Gavin Hamilton and Dougie Brown, whose brief England careers and subsequent time in the wilderness didn't do anyone any good. Far from admitting the faults in the status quo, the ICC believes it is doing associate nations a favour by giving them access to foreign-based professionals until such time as they are plucked out of contention.

"The rules give players the chance to play for associate nations while they are qualifying for another country," said the ICC's manager of media and communications, Brian Murgatroyd. "It's a win-win situation that allows Ireland, for example, to put out their strongest side for as long as possible. Look how they have benefited from qualifying for this World Cup.

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"It comes down to personal choice. Ed Joyce chose to make himself available to England because he wants to play at the highest possible level. That means Test cricket, and many countries have used one-day cricket as a breeding ground for Test cricket, to assess a player's temperament on the big stage. Andrew Strauss and Darren Gough are examples who spring to mind.

"I can't change policy but if the associate nations feel strongly about this issue, there are appropriate forums within the ICC where they can make their voices heard."

Laws on eligibility

THE International Cricket Council currently has ten full members (the Test-playing nations) and 27 associate members.

A player from an associate nation can be selected by a full member at any time, as long as he was born in that country, is considered a national or has been resident in the country for more than half of each of the preceding four years.

Once a player has represented a full member, he cannot play for an associate member in any ICC-recognised match for four years.

Ed Joyce helped Ireland to qualify for the 2007 World Cup but qualified for England on residency grounds in the summer of 2006.

He was handed his debut in a one-day international against Ireland, then called up to England's World Cup squad.

Pressure is on England

ENGLAND have prepared for their opening Super Eights match with Ireland in the same way as they would for any other side, according to captain Michael Vaughan.

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World Cup debutants Ireland tied with Zimbabwe in the group stage before producing a stunning three-wicket win over Pakistan which effectively sent the sub-continent side home.

"First and foremost we respect the Irish because they deserve to be in the Super Eights because they have played good cricket," Vaughan told a news conference.

"We've prepared in exactly the same fashion as we would have done for any other team. There is no pressure on the Irish in any of these Super Eight games so they are going to be a really hard team to beat."

England though have a ready-made spy to help them in "the battle of the British Isles". In-form England opener Ed Joyce was born in Dublin and played for Ireland until 2005.

"The Irish look an organised team," Vaughan added. "We have Ed Joyce in our camp who has given us all the insight. "

Ireland's major worry is the fitness of captain Trent Johnston, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury and missed the West Indies defeat last Friday.

However, the Australian-born quick bowler has said he is 100 per cent sure he will play.

Vaughan said Andrew Flintoff was fit for selection after recovering from a virus which curtailed his net session on Tuesday.