Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ronnie Irani: The lad done good

It's been a few days touched by sporting sadness for me - not least because Thierry Henry has departed for Catalunyan shores - but because it also seems that injury has cut short Ronnie Irani's final season at Essex.

Arriving in Chelmsford from the more northerly environs of Lancashire, Ronnie quickly established himself as a favourite at the County Ground - although he never did manage to shed his accent! A combative allrounder, he was the obvious choice to take on the captaincy in the wake of Paul Prichard's retirement and Nasser Hussain's increased commitment with England, and, I'm sure he'd be pleased to know, he always did us proud.

Whether he was bustling in to unleash his niggardly medium pace, or flaying the ball around at a fair old strike rate with willow in hand, his ability as a player was clear; despite never being quite able to translate this to the international arena. At his best as a one day player, he guided Essex to National League success in 2005 and 2006, as well as the last ever Benson and Hedges Cup final in 2002 (unfortunately not a great day out, as I remember). His strongest international analysis also came in the short form, with 5 for 26 and 53, in the same match against India.

It was as an increasingly accomplished batsman in the longer game that the last few seasons have been most notable for, however, as knee trouble forced the right-arm away swingers to be packed up in the kitbag for good. Performing solely in the top order from the 2004 season onwards, he consistently averaged around the 60 mark, and his bankability helped go a long way to making up for the loss of such stalwarts as Nasser Hussain, Paul Grayson and, more recently, Andy Flower. Before announcing his plans to retire at the end of this season, Reggie was averaging over a hundred, having hit a career-high score of 218 in the second game of the Championship at home to Glamorgan. Sadly, the knees couldn't quite make it.

With some of the young, talented players Essex have brought on recently, I'm not too worried about the batting (it looks like Grant Flower's staking his claim as 'veteran run-getter' at the moment too): it's more as a presence in and around the team that Irani will be chiefly missed. Always a jovial, friendly cricketer, his captaincy engineered us a few wins we might not otherwise have had, and his honesty and connection with the fans were much respected. I'll always enjoy the memory of his clobbering Shane Warne out of the ground in one Warney's first few games at Hampshire; as well as some of the thunderous strokes he employed in Essex's recent one day ascendency. But it's the simple, incongruous-sounding, familiar three sylables in the middle-order of the Essex scorecard that I'll pine for most of all.

Cheers, R. C., you done good.

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