DateLine: 13th February 2006
A keen martial arts enthusiast off the pitch, it was Ronnie Irani’s fighting spirit which often won him the nod for international selection. However, the flip side of that is the insinuation that on quality alone, he was just short of the required standard. A bustling run up to the wicket and slightly awkward jump produced his effective medium-fast outswing. His batting was usually aggressive and frequently effective, and his defiant debut Test knock (37 off 41 balls) helped take the game away from India when they were threatening to run through England, and was cited by Coach David Lloyd as exactly the reason why he’d been picked. He had earlier proved his value as a fifth bowler by claiming Mohammad Azharuddin as a maiden Test victim. His third and last Test came in the debacle against New Zealand at The Oval in 1999. A great domestic 2002 season with bat and ball (he averaged 61 with the bat and 20 with the ball in First-class cricket) saw him back in England pyjamas. He had a shocking time in the VB series of 2002-3 in Australia, averaging 7 with the bat and buying his wickets at 71 each. However, both the Australian crowd and the Barmy Army love a game struggler, and he became a cult figure, with his pre-bowling warm ups eagerly copied by large sections of the crowd. Despite his shocking form he made it to the World Cup later that winter, where he helped to see off the threat of embarrassment by Namibia before faring less well against India. A long term knee injury worsened sufficiently in 2003 for him to have to redefine himself as a batsman only. Unusually for an all-rounder who has to drop his bowling, his batting has actually reaped the rewards, with him averaging 57 in both 2004 and 2005. Irani has been captain of Essex since 2000, and for someone so synonymous with them it is often forgotten that he started his career with his home county of Lancashire. If England had been a stronger cricketing force in the 1990’s, or if England didn’t have such a traditionally average limited-overs team, then it is fair to say that Irani wouldn’t have ascended to international level, although his sparky contributions and character did make watching a struggling England side more enjoyable (and less painful) then it might otherwise have been.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)