It was probably not the Ashes debut that Boyd Rankin had dreamt about making in Sydney during the early hours of yesterday morning.
Watched by his proud mum Dawn, sister Jemma and brother Robert, the giant Tyrone man took his place in Ulster sporting history as he strode out for beleaguered England in the final Ashes Test match against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The former Bready Primary and Strabane Grammar pupil is the first Ulsterman to have played club cricket in the Province and gone on to represent England in a Test match.
Martin McCague, born in Larne, played three Tests for England in the 1990s, while Emile McMaster, who went to Harrow, played a solitary Test against South Africa in March 1889.
Rankin, 29, had to retire from Ireland and then serve a qualification period which made him eligible for England.
While yesterday’s match started well for Rankin as England took the upper hand, he left the field twice clutching an injured leg as the tourists fought to avoid a humiliating 5-0 series whitewash.
Rankin only bowled 8.1 overs and his misfortune is the latest disaster to befall England’s Ashes defence. But at least scans revealed no significant injury damage and he should be able to bowl in Australia’s second innings.
No-one is better qualified to talk about Rankin, of solid Tyrone farming stock, than his lifelong friend and former opening bowling partner David Scanlon.
“Boyd was always a quiet big fella growing up, even playing rugby you had to punch or kick him just to get him going,” said David. “He was very tall and being interested in cricket he was always going to be a fast bowler.
“Initially he wasn’t that fast, for a while I was faster than him, but our professional at Bready, Wiaan Smit, nurtured him and soon he was away on trips with Ireland.
“I will always remember him bowling in an under-16 game at Ballymena on an artificial mat. He bowled a bouncer and it went over fine-leg’s head for six. You could tell then he was going to go all the way.”
England’s policy of “stealing” Ireland’s best players might continue to rile, but there is pride at Rankin’s achievements in the cricketing hotbed of the North West.
“We would all have liked to see him get a go at the Australians earlier in the series when the Ashes were still alive, but it’s wonderful for Bready, and for the North West as a whole, to see Boyd making his Test debut,” David added.
“It wasn’t the ideal first day but I’ve spoken to Boyd on Facebook and he told me it’s only cramp. I’ve told him to watch out when he’s batting against Mitchell Johnson, he doesn’t like facing fast bowling too much! Hopefully he’ll be able to take some Australian wickets in the second innings.”