IN FOCUS – Johnston, a giant of Irish cricket

  The inevitable has happened. Ireland’s tireless senior statesman Trent Johnston has announced that he will be retiring from the international scene in December, disappointing all those who were hoping for him to play in the 2015 World Cup. Even though Johnston will not play his third World Cup in a row, his announcement is timely, for Ireland have just qualified for the 2015 event, and December marks the end of the Intercontinental Cup, which he sees as his farewell.

  The 39-year old Australia-born Johnston has truly given a lot to Irish cricket in his eight years as an Ireland player. However, he would not even have got an opportunity to play for Ireland had it not been for his marriage to an Irish citizen. Despite having made his Sheffield Shield debut for New South Wales in 1999 – he opened the bowling with Brett Lee – he could not win the team’s favour due to injury woes and indifferent form. New South Wales’ loss was Ireland’s gain. Adrian Birrell, who was then the Ireland coach, did not hesitate in making Johnston a part of the Irish team once the all-rounder attained his Irish passport, and he made his Ireland debut in a limited overs game against Surrey in 2004, which ended in Ireland’s only second win against a top county.

Trent_Johnston3  Johnston, who led Ireland in the 2007 World Cup, does a lap of honour after his team beat Pakistan at Kingston in that tournament (source – vgreets.com)

  Johnston’s tryst with captaincy began the following year, when he was appointed skipper for the 2005 Intercontinental Cup semifinal against UAE. Ireland went on to win that tournament while Johnston went on to lead Ireland in their first ever ODI, against England at Belfast in 2006. His biggest moment was undoubtedly the 2007 World Cup, the tournament in which Ireland announced themselves to the cricket world with stunning victories over Pakistan and Bangladesh, not to mention a tie with Zimbabwe. Johnston fittingly hit the winning six against Pakistan, a result which helped Ireland proceed to the next round of the tournament. 

  In 2008, Johnston said he is retiring from international cricket, only to return and serve Ireland with his typical commitment and dedication. In the 2011 World Cup, he popularised a unique celebration – the ‘chicken dance’ – as he scalped a few big names. Just like the win over Pakistan in 2007, Johnston was there in the middle when Ireland beat England in the 2011 World Cup. Even with his increasing struggle to keep fit, he continued to dish out bowling performances characteristic of his nagging accuracy and discipline. 

  Always a team man, Johnston demonstrated his sheer grit in March this year when he bowled a sapping spell in the searing heat of  Sharjah in an Intercontinental Cup match against UAE, and during the same tour, took 4/25 in a World Cup qualifier. Age has not seem to deter Johnston one bit, but unfortunately all good things come to an end eventually. So far, he has taken 65 wickets in 65 ODI’s, plus 95 wickets in first class cricket – the latter at an average of under 20. In addition, his clean hitting of the ball has often helped Ireland get a few crucial runs at the death. 

TrentJohnston  Johnston brought tremendous experience and value to the Irish team over the last eight years, and played a pivotal role in the team’s rise and success (source – setanta.com)

  Ireland coach Phil Simmons said,’Trent has been one of the pillars of this team. He’s been incredibly consistent and gotten vital wickets at crucial times spearheading the bowling unit. His experience has been invaluable, his dedication and work ethic has been exceptional and second to none. He has the total respect of all players who have played with him over nearly ten years in Irish cricket. I would like to thank him for all he has done for Irish Cricket and wish him well in his future career.’

Reflecting on his career, he said: ‘I was incredibly proud to wear the shamrock and to lead your country 60 times including a World Cup was just massive for me. It was a genuine honour and one which I’ll never forget. That first World Cup put Irish cricket on the map and it’s kick-started the cricketing expansion that we’re witnessing now. It was a privilege to be part of that.’

  Johnston has always been an inspirational figure in the Irish team, and has won the respect and admiration of both players and fans alike due to his discipline and hard work, and because of the value he has continuously brought to the side. He might not have been lucky enough to play Test cricket, but surely he has played an enormous role in laying the foundation of Ireland’s rise in international cricket, which will hopefully culminate in Test status sooner than later. 

 In September, Ireland play England in a much-awaited ODI at the new ground in Malahide, followed by their final World Cup qualifiers against Scotland. Victories in each of these games would indeed be a fitting display of gratitude by the team to this absolute legend of Irish cricket.

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