Sunday 9 December 2018

Joyce calls time after 'perfect' finale in historic Test

Ed Joyce. Photo: Sportsfile
Ed Joyce. Photo: Sportsfile

David Townsend

SO it’s all over for Ed Joyce. That push to leg at Malahide, the optimistic call and those 39-year-old legs just unable to beat the direct hit proved to be the end of his final innings and means the first Test match for Ireland’s greatest batsman will also be his last.

It is no secret that the lure of winning a Test cap had kept Joyce going these past couple of years when a creaking body was screaming “Stop” and less than two weeks after achieving that lifelong ambition he has announced his retirement from all forms of cricket.

“I feel now is the right time to stop playing and get started on a new chapter,” Joyce said. “The recent Test match against Pakistan was such an incredible few days and was the perfect game for me to say was my last.”

The stats are impressive: 18,461 first-class runs at an average of 47.95, with 47 centuries; Ireland’s highest individual score of 231 made against the United Arab Emirates, one of 10 centuries in his 150 appearances - plus a total of 11,720 runs in the shorter forms.

But the stats only tell a small part of the story. Joyce was also both a trailblazer for Irish cricket and a joy to watch with a fluidity and beauty about his batting that belied his somewhat grumpy gait in the field.

Those of us lucky enough to witness his international debut at West Bromwich in 1997 will never forget his first boundary brushed sweetly off the thigh pad past square leg; it was a moment that made seasoned old pros catch their breath. “What’s going on here, then?”

After his top score of 60 in that match against Scotland, this correspondent put Middlesex in contact and despite a shaky start when he turned up at the wrong ground in Uxbridge for his Second XI debut, the left-hander quickly became a prized wicket in county cricket. His acceptance in the English professional game paved the way for many young Irishmen to follow.

In 2005, Joyce helped Ireland qualify for their first World Cup but then pinned his colours to England’s mast. His dream was to play Tests, but despite a one-day century in Sydney, his ambition of playing in the longer format was not realised on that side of the Irish Sea.

Why? Certainly he was good enough but perhaps it was never buying into the Three Lions ethos that counted against him - he was always an Irishman who wanted to play Test cricket.

Joyce left Middlesex for Sussex after captaining the north Londoners to their only T20 title in 2008 and after featuring in only five internationals in 10 years for the Boys in Green, returned to the fold in time for Ireland’s stunning victory over England in 2011.

At that stage he must have thought his main ambition was gone but he kept on churning out the runs for Sussex, many of them as captain, and Ireland, for whom he holds the highest all-time average of 41.08, and then came the fairytale Test match ending.

Joyce will now move into a new role with Cricket Ireland overseeing leadership development and as a batting coach in the performance system.

“I am very grateful for being given the opportunity to get involved in the coaching set up,” he said. “I have a huge amount to learn about the art of coaching, but I know I also have a huge amount of knowledge that I’m determined to pass on to the next generation of Irish talent.”

As for retiring from playing “all forms of cricket”? Well, not quite. He will surely still be found bowling to his two boys, much as he learned the game in the family backyard in Bray, alongside siblings Gus, Dom, Cecelia and Isobel who all went on to play for Ireland.

And there may be a few appearances in benefit matches to come during this, his testimonial year with Sussex. Typically, Joyce is donating all the money raised from ‘the celebration of his career’ to charity.

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