In March 2012, William Boyd Rankin was up to his usual tricks for Ireland in the World Twenty20 Qualifier. In that tournament, he claimed fifteen wickets at eleven apiece with pace and bounce beyond that of any other Associate seamer. He was the cornerstone of the Irish attack, the totem around which the likes of Trent Johnston and Tim Murtagh were able to work. Ireland won that tournament at a canter, continuing unchallenged once they'd got their Namibian hiccup out of the way.
Five months later, Rankin had retired from Irish duty at the behest of his county, Warwickshire. Nobody knows exactly how much, or little, arm-twisting had to be done, but it is believed that he was offered an ultimatum: he could give up playing for Ireland, or he could give up playing for Warwickshire. Given that Rankin is a professional cricketer who needs to earn a living, his choice to stick with his employers is perfectly understandable. He may also have been seduced by the lure of England duty; what with Ashley Giles' influence, he could expect to jump straight up towards the top end of the queue for Test seamers.
It took about a year, but his decision appeared to have paid off when he was handed his debut in the Giles-led limited overs formats. He performed well, too, bowling economically in the Twenty20 against New Zealand, and incisively in the Australian one-day series. He was fast, hostile and dangerous. Suddenly, despite fairly lean Championship returns, he was catapulted into the Ashes squad for the return series. And that is where it all went wrong.
To cut a long story short, there was an open slot for a third seamer, but Rankin's form wasn't sufficient for him to press home for it. Indeed, it was only at Sydney that he finally made his debut - and what a debut. In the first innings, the big Ulsterman couldn't get through ten overs without injuring himself, and in the second he couldn't hit a barn door. The sole wicket to his credit was that of Peter Siddle, caught behind when the slog was well and truly on. Rankin has spent most of his career so far proving to people that he is better than a mere medium-pacer, but when push came to shove, that is exactly how he turned up and bowled. If he is ever to be more than a one-cap wonder for England, it will be a huge shock. Ironically, the greatest moment of his brief England career will be his
How different his career could have been if he'd stuck to his Irish guns. He could have been the decisive bowler as Ireland historically beat England in the first ODI at the new home of Irish cricket. He could possibly have altered the course of that Pakistani ODI series. Warwickshire might have cut him loose or it might have been an empty threat (if indeed it was threatened at all), but he would have been the most soughtafter bowler in the county game if they had.
Boyd Rankin is 29 years old. In Irish years, he is "only 29 years old" and could have another eight or nine years left in him. Somewhere in the middle of that time, Ireland are on course to get themselves Test status. In English years, he is "already 29 years old" and with the sort of debut it takes years to redeem yourself from, he will likely have fallen irrevocably behind others in the queue.
If he had stayed with Ireland, he might have had a longer Test career.