Joyce thoroughly at home in two different worlds

ICC Trophy: World Cup beckons - but for England or Ireland?
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The Independent Online

The headline in the Irish Independent, in a size reserved for very special sporting events, proclaimed it all. It said: "Joyce - 'I'm hungrier now for success than when I started'. It appeared to confirm that Ed Joyce, Dublin born, Trinity College educated, the most stylish component of the Middlesex middle order, first to 1,000 first-class runs in the English season and the propelling force behind Ireland's qualification for the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, was ready for much greater things.

Actually, the headline turned out to be concerned not with Ed or his incandescent performances in the ICC Trophy, but with Padraic of that ilk, an accomplished Gaelic footballer from Galway. The reason for the huge coverage is that the Gaelic provincial finals are being played in the country this weekend.

While it might not quite be the only game in town, it represented a temporary collapse of cricket's stout party. The tournament, the ICC Trophy, and Ed, far from dominating proceedings, barely rated a mention.

Jim, the taxi driver on the way to the ground here yesterday - and bear in mind that taxi drivers are supposed to know everything - had heard of neither the ICC Trophy, nor cricket being played at Clontarf Park, nor Ed (although he had chapter and verse on Padraic). Fortunately he was, if not quite alone, then not of a universal breed either. By the time play began between Ireland and Canada, there was a healthy smattering of spectators around the perimeter. It amounted to enough to demonstrate that the game has a faithful following in the country, though insufficient perhaps to jubilate at their qualification for the World Cup for the first time.

Ireland are one of four countries to have qualified so far after the group stage of the trophy, in which 12 teams have been competing in two groups. The others are Scotland, Canada and Bermuda. A fifth place will not be decided until tomorrow.

The competition has reached its knockout stage. The winners of yesterday's games between the top two teams in each group go through to the Trophy Final, the losers play off for third and fourth place. Of more concern perhaps was the battle for the fifth World Cup spot, to be decided by the outcome of games between the third- and fourth-placed teams.

A place in the World Cup is the main, perhaps the sole, aspiration for all the lesser cricketing nations. Ireland (and Bermuda) have never been there before. Ed Joyce has been mainly responsible for their participation this time.

He scored two hundreds and a 70 in the qualifying group and rated his innings of 115 against UAE as his best ever. "I have played more fluently against better bowling before but never with that kind of pressure, which was intense," he said. It was intense because Ireland were 23 for 4, chasing 231. They made them.

Joyce would not be the first Irishman to play for England. Sir Timothy Carew O'Brien, who was born in Dublin, played five Tests for England between 1884 and 1896 and was captain in one of them. But it is a huge effort to get so near from such a background, even though the entire Joyce family is steeped in cricket, with three brothers and two sisters all playing for Ireland. Dominic Joyce is playing in this tournament.

"When I first went to England, my ambition was to secure a place in the Middlesex side and I thought of nothing else," said Joyce. "But it was Mike Gatting who persuaded me to seek qualification for England. If my form continues, I think I have a good chance of selection." Sooner than he thinks, if injuries strike. His elegant, assured left-handedness has appealed to the selectors, and the ECB are urging the ICC to approve his qualification.

He has done the required four years and only the paperwork remains. Paradoxically, if he does not make it, he can play for Ireland in the next World Cup; if he makes it, he may play against them.

Joyce did not play yesterday because Middlesex duty called at Southgate. Ireland could have been exposed without him, although their captain, Jason Molins, insisted that they were much more than a one-man team. Yesterday was the time to show it.

Canada made 238 for 9, which would have been more had their star performer, John Davidson, not been lbw for 35 in the fourth over. It was a different game after that. Ireland stuttered in reply.

Across the city, Bermuda and Scotland were locked in a close contest. Bermuda, unlucky not to be a World Cup venue, have the competition's most charismatic performer in Dwayne "Sluggo" Leverock, who is a left-arm spinner in the body of a sumo wrestler. When Bermuda qualified, Sluggo said: "Mama, mama, we're going World Cup. Get ready, get ready."

The ICC Trophy final is on Wednesday, although winning it is a mixed blessing. The reward is a place in the same World Cup group as Australia and South Africa. The runners-up on the other hand get India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for company. Mind you, right now you would probably opt for Australia.