Next up in a series on five heroes of the county game, Tom Huelin profiles Sussex and Ireland run-machine, Ed Joyce. As the third highest run-scorer in County Championship cricket from 2002 onwards (only Ramprakash and Goodwin are ahead of him), few batsmen command more respect in domestic cricket. Did England miss out on a potential Test star?
In June 2006, just a few months before England suffered an Ashes whitewash in Australia, an Irish batsman was handed his England debut in an ODI against, ironically enough, Ireland.
The batsman was Ed Joyce, a silky-smooth left-hander from Dublin who had caught the eyes of the selectors by scoring over a thousand runs in each of the five preceding County Championship seasons for Middlesex. It must have been a strange day for Joyce. Here he was embarking on what he hoped would be a long and successful international career for England, lining up against his compatriots, including his brother Dom. He was determined to play at the highest level though, and that meant playing Test cricket for England.
His T20I debut followed days later, against Sri Lanka, before he returned to the shires and smashed a career-best 211 in a Championship match against Warwickshire. A place in the Test squad seemed to be moving ever closer. But after they flopped at the 2007 World Cup, England did what England do after every tournament failure and jettisoned a bunch of players they felt had under-performed, often never to be seen again. Joyce was one of them. It was a little harsh considering he had registered consecutive fifties in the group stage and scored a maiden ton against Australia at the SCG in the lead-up to the tournament. Crucially, he had never been given the opportunity to prove himself in the Test arena, despite the fact that long-form cricket was, and still is, his strongest suit.
As his international career ground to a halt, Joyce moved to Sussex at the end of the 2008 season in a bid to reignite his England prospects. “I’ve done well down here for the last five or six years,” he says. “I had gone a bit stale at Middlesex.”
He is closing in on 15,000 first-class career runs and has passed the 1,000-run mark again this season – the ninth time he has done so in 13 years. “If you would have told me at this stage in the season that I’d have done what I’ve done then I’d have been delighted,” he told AOC in June. “I’m really happy to get four hundreds under my belt already. In a Championship season, you’d normally be pretty happy with four in total, so with a few games left it would be nice to get a couple more [he has six at the time of writing]. I’m really happy with the way I’m hitting the ball. Obviously there’s a bit of fatigue, we’ve played a lot of games and I’ve batted a long time, but I like playing a lot of cricket.”
Despite all the milestones and the respect of his peers and supporters, Joyce hasn’t been selected by England since 2007. Players such as Owais Shah and Eoin Morgan, who had vastly inferior first-class averages compared to Joyce’s 47.09, were selected ahead of him in the Test team, leaving him as something of a forgotten man.
By 2011 Joyce had understandably run out of patience, and returned to the Ireland squad in time for the World Cup in India that year. He was soon sticking two fingers up to his former employers, as Ireland famously beat England in Bangalore.
Few batsmen on the county circuit command the respect that Joyce does. He bats beautifully, predominantly off the back foot, stroking the ball around the wicket from a compact stance at the crease. He is undoubtedly one of county cricket’s finest technicians.
These days, Joyce captains Sussex expertly while still scoring more than his fair share of runs for both club and country. He is regarded as a consummate professional, with both the technique and temperament for the very highest level, and there is no doubting the fact that his batting has thrived with the passing of time.
England of course have now entered a new era and young batsmen such as Moeen Ali, Gary Ballance and Sam Robson deserve their chance to rebuild England’s batting unit. But spare a thought for Ed Joyce, the third-highest run-scorer in the County Championship over the last 13 years. A county hero, a run-machine, but one without a Test cap to his name.