Transcript: Couch Talk with Trent Johnston

Couch Talk 113 (Play)

Guest: Trent Johnston, Former Ireland Captain

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former Ireland captain Trent Johnston. He talks about the plans for post-playing career, Cricket Ireland’s memorable days in international cricket he was part of, the poor treatment of Associate and Affiliate cricketing nations by the ICC, and the future of cricket in Ireland amongst other things. Welcome to the show, TJ!

Trent Johnston (TJ)– Thank you very much! How are things?

SJ– Not bad at all. Thanks.

You retired last month from international cricket and you have already jumped headlong into two more coaching assignments. Generally people take some break from playing before they start their coaching career or media career. How come you didn’t do any of that?

TJ– I suppose I did take a little break. I finished on the 15th of December and practically flew to Australia, where I am from. I spent nearly four weeks over there, spending Christmas with family and spending time with friends and that sort of things. I was obviously looking to spend a bit more time there and the tournament was up for the girls here in Qatar, so I cut that short. The priorities sort of change and I very much look forward to getting stuck in. We are here at the moment in Qatar, and it is going very well.

SJ– Even when you were playing through your career, were you of the opinion that you were going to end up as a coach, or you had other plans in mind as well?

TJ– I think you had more than one set plan because you don’t know what is going to happen. I have been very lucky with what cricket has given me over the last 10 years. I have been able to go to 5 World Cups and captain Ireland 60 times. I thought it was only right that I stayed involved and try to give something back to Ireland for what they gave to me in that period of time.

Coaching was the highest priority. I made that quite clear to the powers to be in Cricket Ireland, that I wanted to stay involved and give something back to the cricketing community over there. I was lucky enough that the position for the ladies team’s job came up. I am also looking after the fast bowlers at the newly formed National Cricket Academy. I am also coaching one of the provincial teams there. I am going to be quite busy, but it is a good mixture of work and am looking forward to being stuck in.

SJ– Fantastic. I want to talk a bit about Cricket Ireland. In your time representing Ireland, cricket has come a long way, not just in terms of on-field performances but also the organization, the development of the game at the grass roots in Ireland.

TJ– Absolutely! I remember it coming over in full time in 2004. Our team had a full time coach, a CEO and a lady part time in reception, and a handful of volunteers. Now, you throw in the players contracts, there could be 50-60 people employed by Cricket Ireland across the country. It is an amazing improvement in 10 years, it has been very good for the sport over there. It comes about from the success of the teams on the field, especially the men’s team. They generate a lot of income and perform very well over the times they have been involved in the world cup. They have been dominant associate country for so many years now, that it has given Cricket Ireland an opportunity to expand. Being in Ireland, it is not really a no.1 sport over there, but it is slightly getting over there. It is giving us an opportunity to spread our wings and develop our game there.

SJ– I want to talk a bit about your on field performances and the highlights, and of course the future of cricket in Ireland and Ireland’s future as a cricket nation. But first, I want to talk about two most remembered on-field accomplishments during your tenure with Ireland cricket. One is beating Pakistan in 2007 World Cup and the other is beating England in 2011 World Cup. Which one was sweeter? I guess, putting it across to the old enemy?

TJ– Yes, absolutely. That was a pretty special day. We didn’t start the game very well. (Kevin) Pietersen and (Andrew) Strauss got off to a fairly decent start. We pegged them back in the last 10 overs. I think they got 6/60 in the last 10. We contained them well to the total they got. Then, obviously we had a bit disastrous start with captain William Porterfield out to the first ball and we were 5/110. I suppose one knows what happened after that – Kevin O’Brien smashed the fastest World Cup 100. The guy at the other end, Alex Cusack supported him very well. he got 60 runs off 60 balls. John Mooney, who is a very proud Irishman, I was lucky enough to be out there with him when he hit the winning runs. It was certainly a very special day.

Not just the Pakistan game, but the whole 7 week journey we had there was quite amazing. The people that know Irish cricket will reflect on it quite fondly when you sit down and think about it. That was the start, about where we are now. That whole journey in the Caribbean was amazing – to be a part of that team, to be the captain that team and to hit the winning runs of that game – to beat Pakistan on St. Patrick’s Day in Jamaica was a really special achievement and they are great memories to think about sitting here now.

SJ– There is a question from a listener, Yogesh, and he is asking about that particular day in Jamaica. What was the thought within the team and in your head as the captain going into the match against Pakistan and what was the feeling like after you had accomplished the win?

TJ– Going into the game we were pretty confident because 2 days before we played Zimbabwe and we tied the game. That was a sort of ebb and flow game. We lost the game, then won the game and then ended up tying it. It gave us great confidence and belief that we belong here, that we should be on the world stage. We were always very confident as a squad, we had fairly good draw. We had obviously the host nation, we had Pakistan who on their day could have had 450 against us. They didn’t do that, though. And then we also had Zimbabwe, and at that time they were pretty beatable. Going into the Pakistan game, we turned up and saw a the pitch quite green and I hadn’t seen that sort of a wicket throughout the whole tournament. Maybe our incoming coach Phil Simmons had something to do with that? *laughs* Maybe he spoke to a few groundsmen and said “Let’s get a green wicket for the lads.” That gave us confidence because we are used to playing on green wickets, that is what we play on in Ireland week in week out, with the ball moving around, the batsmen and bowlers are used to that condition.

Luckily, I won the toss and put them in. Big Boyd Rankin and David Langford-Smith did a great job and got early wickets. We got wickets consistently throughout the innings. That is the key in ODI cricket, to stop the run rate, especially if you are a lower team against the big boys you have to keep taking wickets, because as soon as they string a partnership they put you to bed, so to speak.

SJ– So, you bowled Pakistan out for 132 and now you have a very gettable total. You had a shaky start and Niall O’Brien basically pitches his tent on one end and then finally you come in and finish the game off. What was the roller coaster of emotions like? As you said, Pakistan can defend any total and make any total. So, what was going on in your head and what was the dressing room like?

TJ– I suppose the dressing room was very realistic. If you look at the Pakistan team, the bowlers they had – (Abdul) Razzaq, (Azhar) Mahmood, (Mohammed) Sami, if we could bowl them out for 132, they could bowl us out for 80! We knew we had to get in there and fight, we had to get in there and put our bodies on the line because their bowlers were a lot quicker than us. They were moving the ball around just as much as we did. We lost a few early wickets and William Porterfield got a good 30 odd, Niall got 70-odd. Kevin in the end, coming in and got 10 off 60 balls. That is a sign of how difficult the wicket was and how good the bowling was. To come in and get a nice little slower ball that I could pick up off Azhar and slog that over mid wicket was the cue to some great celebrations. Really good memories indeed.

SJ– You mentioned Boyd Rankin, and (Eoin) Morgan was there too. Now they are playing for England, so is Ed Joyce. What is your take on that, because Ireland spends all this effort, time and money and gets them up to speed and gives them all the opportunities and then England takes them all? What is your take on that? What is the prevalent feeling?

TJ– It’s not good. I don’t like it, but you can’t blame the players. The players want to play Test match cricket. They want to play ODI cricket, a lot of ODI cricket. At present we are the top associate country and we can’t give them the Test match cricket at the moment. We play 3 or 4 full members a year. When you are playing as a full member you are playing about 25-30 ODIs an year. we are trying to give them the international exposure. We have got to understand that it is these guys’ career. We are slightly chipping away and hoping that we can get the ICC to come on board and take our application into being the 11th full member. We have got to keep ticking the boxes over and make sure that Boyd is the last Irishman to play for England.

SJ– I am not blaming the players because it is kind of no-win situation for them. Because, you are a good player and you want to test yourself against the best, for which you have to play the Test cricket. Right now, as the situation is, Ireland is not playing Test match cricket. So, if a player wants to move to England and play, more power to him. I understand that. Warren Deutrom, the CEO of Ireland Cricket said that the goal is for Ireland to play Test cricket by 2020. Will that be too late for someone like George Dockrell or Paul Stirling?

TJ– I don’t know. I think that is a question only they can answer. That is six years away. That where we want to be, as a Test playing country. There is no reason why we cannot play before that. It is about what we have to do at our level – win all the games we can and prove to the ICC that we have it in us to be in the next level. The guys in the office, the CEO, you mentioned Deutrom and Richard Holdsworth- are doing everything they can to get the things and procedures in place.

There is a certain amount of criteria that you have to meet before becoming a full member. Only last year we started inter provincial cricket. We have the best 45 players around the country playing in three provincial teams against each other in multi day cricket, 50- and 20-over cricket. That is a great step in the right direction and that is going to continue in the coming years. That is exactly what we are going to do. This will be the first year for the National Cricket Academy, which is another great move to identify young talent coming into the game and to give them a  certain amount of what the senior men or women’s team has. To expose those cricketers to specialised coaching, dietary and physio programs.

Cricket Ireland is going in the right direction. It is going to take a long process and there is going to be a lot of lobbying from the gents in the office to convince the other full members that we do warrant to be at the top table.

SJ– I want to talk about the other full members too. While you set up the first class system you mentioned that you have three provincial teams, and you want to keep your best players in Ireland so that the competition is good. But, what can Ireland do in the meantime to keep the players in Ireland rather than going to England, which they are well within their rights to do?

TJ– Absolutely. It is a difficult one because if you are not a contracted player and you want to make cricket your livelihood and County (Cricket) comes knocking on your door, you are going to take that opportunity. That is just common sense and what is going to prevail there. With the national academy starting up there is going to elite program for elite players so that they are going to feel wanted and they will get specific programs for them cricketing wise, on nutrition, all those kinds of stuff, exposure to that, exposure to high class coaching, potentially going away on tour as Ireland’s National Academy. There are three female inductees in the first year. that is good. That is what we need to do. We have to get the newcomers a plan when going from club cricket to international cricket. They have to go from club cricket to provincial cricket, national academy, through to the A-team and the senior men’s team; and the same pattern for the ladies team. The structure is slowly being put in place. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It is certainly the case with Irish cricket. It is a slow process. The growth that we had in the past 10 years has been amazing and we have to continue doing that. At the end of the next growth period, hopefully we would be playing a Test match somewhere.

SJ– What are, as a former Ireland captain and player, your views and your mates’ views on ICC’s and the full member nations’ disinclination to expand the list from 10 players and include Ireland. You can very well make a case for Ireland being the 7th or 8th best cricket nation in the world, if not better.

TJ– I suppose that is very difficult. We don’t have a massive population to be attractive to the ICC. They would like to expand a lot more in places like China and the USA, you don’t have to be Einstein to work out that the population out there is massive compared to Ireland, where we are 4.5 million people. That doesn’t help us. But, we are a very proud nation, we like to get out there whether we are the underdogs or the favourites we like to give it a good fight. That’s what we have got to continue to do. Every time we play a full member, we have got to beat them. Eventually they will have to say that Ireland as cricketing nation is very good and we can’t ignore them any more. The more and more games are getting against the full members, the better we are going to be.

Then, it goes back to your previous point, about we stop the kids going from the Irish set up to the English set up. What you do is that you tell them is that last year you played 10 full members. Going forward leap, we are going to play 15 this year. They have the exposure to top flight cricket. That is what you need to do; every time you are out there, you have to win the games. The squad is very aware of that, the pressure associated with that, and they have held up quite well so far.

SJ– I don’t even have to be a cynic to see that cricket in the way it is run and administered around the world is just following the TV money. If there was an independent deal outside of Sky Sports and what not, probably many full member nations will be rushing in to play you, that’s just simple math. When you see how odds are stacked against you, Ireland is not a full member nation yet – while you see some of the full member nations not doing as much as they should but still reaping the benefits; You are outside looking in, that must be frustrating.

TJ– It probably is. The cards have been dealt. My theory on that is that we have put our head down and work harder and continue to prove people wrong. They are all hoping or wishing that Ireland fall down and go down to playing just 2 or 3 games an year, not sort of be an associate powerhouse knocking down the door time and again. We have to prove those people wrong. We have to go out there and keep putting good results on the board and play positive cricket. Last year we played England and that was the first time we had 10,000 people at our new home ground in Malahide, just outside of Dublin. That was the best day I’ve had being associated with Ireland cricket. You talk about the Caribbean, about being in India, having 10000 Irish supporting you around the boundary on a beautiful day with 20-odd degrees in Dublin, the best day’s cricket I have had. We want to give the cricketing public in Ireland more days like that.

You spoke about the money and there is a huge amount of money in TV rights and deals that you get when you are an ICC full member nation. That is how it is. Of course, we would like more of a piece of that pie, but there is still a long way for development of the game in Ireland. If we can get some sort of money like that, we can get all our players back from County Cricket, we can create a fantastic first class structure over there in Ireland and cricket could move on. Till we get those players back from England, things are going to be a little bit difficult for us to raise the profile. Currently our national captain plays for Warwickshire, and two of our top wicketkeepers, one is in Surrey and the other is in Leicester. Our best batsman is the captain at Sussex. We want them back in Ireland and drive the first class structure there. These guys are earning a living out there, so it is a costly expense to get them back. We have to keep going on the field and see what happens.

SJ– I understand the efforts from Cricket Ireland’s side, but for crying out loud, after you beat England in 2011 World Cup and the 2015 decision was made, it was originally announced that no associate nations would be a part of it and ICC had ot be shamed into changing that decision. When that sort of thing happens, what do you, as a top associate nation think?

TJ– It is disappointing. It was a hollow day when that was announced. Not just for us or Afghanistan or Netherlands, but 95 associate and affiliate countries that have dreams of going to a World Cup. How can you call  it a World Cup with just 10 teams playing in it? It certainly wouldn’t have been called a World Cup in my eyes. The decision had to be changed and I am glad it was. They obviously got an idea that we are seen as a potential banana skin and even the likes of Afghanistan, who have a very good team and will be competitive in the world cups, and definitely in Australia. Us as the two top associate teams, we are capable of beating the full member teams and they are quite wary of playing us. I can totally understand that. The 2019 [world cup] is going to be a totally different animal because you have got to be ranked in the top 10 to play in the world cup. Is Bangladesh and Pakistan going to want to play Ireland and Afghanistan and Netherlands because if we beat them, we jump ahead of them in the rankings. So, that is some thing that has to be addressed.

SJ– Was there any thought in your mind of extending your playing career to go back and play in the world cup, back home in Australia?

TJ– No, that is unfortunately way too far away. I am quite happy with my decision. My body has done well to last this long. I will be 40 in April. I made the decision in March, sat down with my wife and said this was it. I had a goal to get through the year, and I was happy with that. We played the 5-day {intercontinental cup] final against Afghanistan and I couldn’t play the last day because my Achilles giving me trouble for the last 18 months. I almost planned it perfectly to leave but that is the way it went. I am just happy that my contributions can take the guys to another World Cup. We got the ICC Intercontinental Trophy back. I grew up playing multi-day cricket in Australia and to win that four times out of six attempts was big. To have that trophy back in the cup-board was the final piece in the pie. I am happy. I may have at some stage thought of going to Bangladesh [for WT20] but am happy now with what I am doing and working with the ladies, working at the Academy and getting to work with the players in the provincial cricket in Ireland. It is time to start the next stage of my life and I am looking forward to it.

SJ– OK. Lastly, there is an ideal scenario of how things can pan out for Ireland cricket in the short and long term future. There is a realistic one too. What do you see to be the ideal scenario and the realistic scenario for Ireland cricket in the next 2-3 years to the next 7-8 years?

TJ– Realistically, I think we can and will become a full member, I think that is very achievable. A lot of things have to be put in place. That is a longer term goal. In the 2-3 year span, we have two world cups in that span. T20 cricket is the form of the game where the lesser strong teams can come back into that.

In 2009, we beat Bangladesh and went into the Super-8 and were very close to beating Sri Lanka and we did very well against Pakistan in that particular tournament. In 2010 WT20, we were chasing 120-odd against England and were 1/10 after two overs and it rained. England went on to win that World Cup. In 2012, we lost our first game against Australia who played pretty well in that tournament. We played the West Indies after that and then it rained and West Indies went on to win the tournament. I am not saying we would have won the World Cup, but rain hasn’t done us any favours over the years. The T20 format is something that we are good at, something that we are quite comfortable playing and enjoy playing. The strength and depth is good in players that have grown up playing one day cricket.

This World Cup is a massive World Cup [WT20] for us. even though it is going to be difficult to get through the phase one as ICC calls it, the main draw, if we can achieve that, anything is possible if we go to the knockout stage. So, we have that and the 2015 World Cup. A lot of the guys here have played in Australia and know what is going on there. i am pretty sure that Cricket Ireland will have a couple of tours there and they will be in the mix. They will be very well prepared to play in that. In the short term, to perform very well and keep winning games in World Cups, try and get to quarter finals and semi finals, knocking out a few full members and make them sit up and take notice again.

SJ– Fantastic. I wish Ireland cricket all the best, and I wish your coaching of the Irish women’s team and the fast bowling academy all the best.

TJ– Thank you very much for having me on.

SJ– Thanks a lot TJ. Cheers!

TJ– Cheers! See you mate. Bye!


Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman