England’s 2013/14 Ashes tour is perhaps the greatest debacle of them all. England went into the series as favourites and yet managed to end up losing the Tests 5-0, the ODIs 4-1 and the T20s 3-0. To say it was a dark time for us is an understatement, although the record sales of Tanqueray were great news for both Diageo and the local branch of Threshers.
Trying to isolate the single lowest point of this epic shambles is quite the challenge. There was the very first collapse at Mitchell Johnson’s hands in Brisbane as 82/2 became 136 all out; the always popular Brad Haddin’s hundred in Adelaide; Alastair Cook leaving a straight one first up as England set off in forlorn pursuit of 504 in Perth; Rogers’ and Watson’s stroll to victory in Melbourne and 23/5 at the SCG as the final indignity unfolded in front of the shell-shocked remains of the Barmy Army. That and the fact that some of us had to watch it all on Channel Nine, all the time trying not to throw empty gin glasses at the TV.
Of course, time heals all wounds (apart from those that get infected and refuse to ever stop bleeding), so we recently found ourselves finally looking at the scorecards from the series, trying to fill in some of the gaps and bring closure to the whole traumatic experience. This trip down memory lane brought back any number of small details that we’d forgotten: Chris Tremlett played in Brisbane, Monty Panesar in Adelaide and Melbourne and there were three debutantes in Sydney. One of them (Gary Ballance) has since gone on to a proper Test career, of sorts, while the other two remain as one cap wonders. Scott Borthwick may one day find himself back in the England setup – although it’s unlikely to be as a legspinner batting at number eight – but for our latest Unlikely Lad that particular ship has well and truly sailed.
Quite how Boyd Rankin came to play in that Test match remains something of a mystery even now. As far as we can tell, the logic behind his selection in the original tour party went something like this:
Of course, this logic rather ignored several important factors, such as the fact that Tremlett had lost all of his pace and venom (and place in the England side) in the interim while Rankin had hardly set the county game alight while completing his qualification period for England, spending most of his time being injured. It remains one of the great selectorial decisions.
The penny seemed to drop when Rankin and Steve Finn produced a legendary terrible opening spell in Alice Springs as England were outperformed by a bunch of schoolchildren, local winos and part-time cricketers in a two day tour match. This may well have been the point when everyone just gave up and waited for the inevitable whitewash.
Except of course, that things got so bad that by the time they reached Sydney, England just thought ‘fuck it’ and gave Rankin a debut, despite the fact that he’d torn the cartilage in his shoulder during fielding practice just a couple of days earlier and was suffering from a back spasm going into the match. It remains one of the great selectorial decisions. Still given that, his nerves and his complete lack of form, it actually could have gone worse.
Rankin’s first spell of four overs was uneventful, his second a bit more expensive. But his third spell consisted of a single delivery before he limped off with cramp. To have that happen once is unlucky; to have it happen twice is mental. And yet it did: after returning to the field later in the day Rankin once again bowled a single ball before limping off, wearing the forlorn look of a man who wouldn’t get to watch Steven Peter Devereux Smith’s third Test century from up close. Presumably while also asking some serious questions of the physio who’d told him he’d be fine and should get back out there and run it off. It remains one of the great sports fitness decisions.
Rankin was fit enough to bowl in the second innings, but looked like a big ginger shadow of a proper Test fast bowler, trundling through 12 innocuous overs before picking up the wicket of Peter Siddle to end Australia’s second innings and leave England the prospect of chasing 448 to win. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Rankin still had time to complete a second ball duck as the final wicket to fall, completing perhaps the greatest debut since that time Gavin Hamilton did his thing.
Surprisingly enough, England seemed to give up on Boyd Rankin pretty quickly. He played the first couple of the ODIs in the following series, which England of course lost, hardly surprising with a bowling ‘attack’ of Rankin, Jordan, Bresnan, Stokes, Root and Bopara. Rankin wasn’t even required to bowl his full ten overs in either match. At least by the third match he could finally be released from his torment, replaced by Stuart Broad. England still lost, of course.
Since then, Rankin has gone through the appropriate hanging around to re-qualify for Ireland, forming part of the team that stunk out the first week of the World T20, losing to Oman and the Netherlands. It might not be up there with limping off at the SCG twice in terms of career lowlights, but it’s hard to shake the idea that maybe there is more to this fast bowling lark than just being very tall.