Cricket: Rule tweak can halt England's poaching
The joy of watching Ireland perform so wonderfully this past week has been tinged by the ever-present fear that before the next World Cup some of those heroes in green will be flying a different flag.
The heartbreaking spectre of Cricket Ireland losing its finest as quickly as it develops them is a problem that has been around for a while now and it must be addressed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) if the sport is to grow.
The elephant in the dressing-room is, of course, the very elephant that was defeated so gloriously a week ago today.
Make no mistake, in the next few years England will steal Ireland's best young players -- Paul Stirling and George Dockrell -- and it's not impossible that Boyd Rankin and skipper William Porterfield will be lost too.
The lure for them all is the dream of playing Test matches -- maybe even an Ashes series -- and if that dream did not materialise for Ed Joyce, it already has for his countryman Eoin Morgan.
Neither is a traitor or turncoat, because there isn't a cricketer alive who doesn't want to play at the highest level.
Even Trent Johnston. What would the former captain have said if his native Australia had called him up for the final Ashes Test a couple of months ago? (And the Aussies have picked worse).
Ireland cannot offer that ultimate prize and are unlikely to be granted Test status for the next decade or two, if ever. Indeed, how is it possible to advance as a cricketing nation to the point where you can compete with the elite when your outstanding performers keep getting nicked by the very same?
Unless something is done, Stirling and Dockrell are on borrowed time, Porterfield has already said he would not turn down the chance to play Tests, and Rankin is on England's radar too.
How unfair would it be if an injury crisis saw England's fast-bowling ranks depleted later this summer, and a Test cap or two for Rankin deprived Ireland of the team's one genuine strike bowler for the next four years?
If the problem seems insoluble, it isn't. One small rule change by the ICC would satisfy both the ambitions of individual players and Cricket Ireland.
Before the 2005 World Cup qualifying tournament, the late John Wright, as secretary of the then-Irish Cricket Union, persuaded the ICC to waive its four-year waiting rule for players from Associate countries wanting to play for Full Member countries.
It meant that Joyce, who hadn't played since 2001, could once again wear the green without it effecting his eligibility for England. If that old rule were partly reinstated to apply to Associate players wishing to play limited overs cricket for Full Members, the problem of losing Ireland stars would largely disappear overnight.
A Joyce, Morgan or Rankin could then be called up for a Test match without it effecting their one-day international status with Ireland because they would not be eligible to represent England in ODIs for another four years.
Given that the current England top three were all born in South Africa, would it really be such an aberration to allow a player to represent one team in ODIs and another in Tests?
The same rule change would enable the Netherlands to hold onto Ryan ten Doeschate, and Zimbabwe might even decide to forego the expense of Test cricket and allow its players to try their luck with South Africa, as they used to.
The dilemma was brought into focus again yesterday when Morgan joined the England squad, as a replacement for the injured Kevin Pietersen, instead of linking up with his old Irish mates.
The Dubliner didn't swap colours because he wanted to play for England -- it was because he wanted to play at the top level. As Ed Joyce once observed: "You'll never meet anyone more Irish than Eoin."