Exclusive: Joyce proud of dominating associates


Ryan Bailey chatted exclusively to former England batsman and current Ireland talisman Ed Joyce about the World Twenty20, a tight rivalry with Afghanistan – and more.

Having elegantly caressed the star-studded Pakistani bowlers around Castle Avenue in May for 120 deliveries – marvelling those who braved the crisp spring temperatures with every sublime stroke – Ed Joyce proceeded to uncharacteristically charge Abdur Rehman and launch the slow left-armer over the Clontarf pavilion.

The towering six not only saw Joyce reach his maiden one-day international century for the country of his birth – and in the process only become the second player to score one-day tons for two countries – but also highlighted his capacity to go through the gears and throw the textbook out the window.

And, although the 35-year-old admits the longer format of the game suits his aesthetically pleasing elegance, it's that ingenuity and ability to adapt to the circumstances that will come to fruition during next month's ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers as Ireland look to book their place in Bangladesh.

"The twenty over game hasn't always suited my game but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it. I do prefer performing and scoring runs in the longer format but it would be nice to get the strike-rate up and really push on as an international Twenty20 player." Joyce declared.

While his natural instincts may not be to step outside of the textbook and throw away his inhibitions, Joyce's role in the format which demands bludgeoning blows and flamboyant innovation often gets overlooked.

In fact, the left-hander has enjoyed a good deal of success in the format while his stats, both internationally and domestically, are certainly not to be sniffed at.

"To win the domestic Twenty20 competition twice in England and once as captain of Middlesex was fantastic as it helped me develop new skills and enhance my knowledge and reading of the game. Obviously, it was nice to contribute with the bat as captain in 2008 but it was also important to show I could adapt and that I had it in me." He recalls.

Ireland are bidding to qualify for their fourth successive Twenty20 World Cup when they compete with fifteen other associate nations for the six berths available in next year's big-hitting extravaganza.

The expansion of the tournament from twelve to sixteen teams in 2014 has simplified the long-winded qualifying process considerably but Joyce insists he and his teammates will be taking nothing for granted.

"We started poorly last time in the qualifiers when we were beaten by Namibia, it shows that anything can happen in Twenty20. It's a difficult format to predict and although we're strong favourites, we're certainly not taking anything for granted." The Dubliner reiterated.

"With six teams now progressing it's made things a bit easier but I think the associate nation game has improved massively. We'll have to be on the ball from the outset but having said that, we'd be extremely disappointed not to be one of those six sides to qualify."

"We're fully focused and I'm sure we'll perform to the ability everyone knows we can but it's also important to show the ICC that we're serious about cricket as a country."

The two-week tournament which begins on November 15th is just the first-part of a decisive Winter schedule for Phil Simmons' side. Ireland could complete an unprecedented associate nation treble should they defend their Twenty20 qualification crown and avoid defeat to Afghanistan in the Intercontinental Cup Final follow which follows hot on the heels in December.

It would be a remarkable achievement to complete the affiliate clean sweep and further underline their dominance of the non-Test playing ranks but Joyce remains cautious when it comes to the subject of superiority.

"We've certainly dominated the associate game for a couple of years now but I'm always wary of bigging it up too much because I know where we were not so long ago. We were regularly losing to the likes of Netherlands and Scotland and even Denmark, with all respect to them." The Sussex captain explains.

"We weren't dominating then and that's why the lads are always looking to improve and strive for better."

Indeed, their supremacy of the Intercontinental Cup was interrupted by an emerging Afghanistan side in 2009-10 and the same Asian opposition will be out to cast a shadow over another prolific twelve months for the Emerald Isle.

The four-day competition comes to a conclusion at the ICC Global Cricket academy in Dubai, just eleven days after Ireland's potential involvement in the Twenty20 qualifier final and Joyce admits it will be difficult to switch suits in such a short period of time.

"It's tricky to change over formats but we'll have the advantage of the guys who regularly do it in County Cricket. However, I think it's more of a mindset thing and definitely easier to go from four-day cricket to one-day than vice versa. Getting your head around the fact you've got to occupy the crease, display great concentration and discipline and take to the field for a whole day after playing Twenty20 is difficult but we're used to it now."

Phil Simmons has the luxury of being able to field his strongest and most experienced side with all the county-based players available as well as the returning Alex Cusack, who has recovered from a back injury. However, it means that several of those who starred during the drawn-out seven match group stage will have to watch from afar and Joyce has plenty of sympathy for those who will miss out.

"I feel for the lads who played in the lead-up and got us this far with some brilliant performances. It's tough on guys like Anderson and Balbirnie who did so well throughout the competition and Craig Young who impressed against Scotland but that's just the way it goes unfortunately." he adds.

While Ireland have traditionally contested with Netherlands and Scotland for the associate nations honours, Afghanistan have developed into a major force, underlined by the fact they have already secured qualification for their first World Cup in 2015.

Having only been granted ICC Membership in 2001, they have come along away in a short period of time and pose a very different and contrasting challenge to that of the other affiliates. Their proximity to Pakistan makes them a very strong sub-continent outfit and Joyce admits conditions will suit them but maintain's Ireland are confident of getting the result required.

"They [Afghanistan] are a very strong side but so are we. They have an equally dangerous, if not better bowling attack at the moment but we edge it with the bat." The 35-year-old concedes.

"It's going to be a really good test for us to see where we're at in the longer format as we don't play a huge amount of it. It's great to have our strongest side as we rarely get a chance to play together with the red ball. It will be a great effort to beat them over four days in conditions which will suit them but we've been there and done it all before."

Trent Johnston will be hoping to add another winners medal to his