Cecelia and Isobel Joyce

Isobel (left) and Cecelia Joyce

© Cricket Ireland


The family that plays together

Meet the group of siblings who have become poster children for cricket in their country

Rahul Bhattacharya

In 2003, Kenya reached the semi-final of the World Cup in South Africa. Either I wrote something celebratory about their advancement, or a colleague, a fine English sportswriter, wrote something grumpy; in any event, we came to arguing it. He was not knocking Kenya's achievement, he clarified; he "just didn't like them there".

At the time this was not an unpopular view for many of us. The idea of cricket going wider was understood foremost as a Jagmohan Dalmiya vote-gathering scheme, and all it did was produce endless World Cups with endless mismatches. By 2006, Wisden was railing against the "expansion menace", and held that the "error" began with the ICC's mission statement, which included the regrettable words "promoting the game as a global sport".

The way we talk about Associates has changed. Back then it was almost compulsory to refer to them as "minnows". Minnows are small fish used as bait. Using that term now is baiting of a very different order.

In the 2007 World Cup, Ireland knocked out Pakistan in the first round. In the 2009 World T20, they went past Bangladesh into the Super Eights. In a match that went to the head like the finest Irish, they toppled England in the 2011 World Cup. In the 2015 World Cup they defeated West Indies as well as Zimbabwe. In that last team was Ed Joyce, who had sat out of international cricket four years to requalify for the country of his birth, after first playing for England. This too recalled the Editor's Note in Wisden: "Every Scotsman and Irishman who gets good at cricket wants to play for England, and always has done."

In our cover story this month, a bunch of Joyces speak to Tim Wigmore, who has perhaps done more than any other journalist to chronicle the contemporary challenges and accomplishments of Associate and Affiliate nations. Five of nine Joyce siblings have played for the country, and their parents served Irish cricket in other ways. Wigmore's proposition is that no family has done as much for cricket in any one country as the Joyces have done in Ireland.

There has been no shortage of obstacles before the Joyces. For the first seven decades of the 20th century, cricket, seen as too English, was banned in Ireland by the influential Gaelic Athletic Association. The sport emerged from that with only a few players and even fewer resources. A glimpse into the life of Cecelia Joyce - along with her twin Isobel, a mainstay of Ireland Women - gives you an idea of what it takes. Cecelia makes a living as a corporate lawyer, works up to 70 hours a week, and sometimes sleeps as little as 20 in order to train and play cricket. The women's team does not have contracts (modest match fees are a recent introduction) and top-ten opposition are a rarity, as they are for the men.

Yet the Joyces have not just grown the sport in their country. They have inspired the entire Associate world, and as against the cheerful striving recommended by Harsha Bhogle in an infamous series of tweets, they have spoken up on behalf of all of them.

There are plenty of family lessons for cricket administrators in the Joyces' story, and I'll leave you to discover them. Here, if you are in the mood, is a set of links to Associate and Affiliate stories from the months gone: Nepal, Scotland, Afghanistan, Netherlands, Belize, UAE and, also in this month's issue, a photo-story from Rwanda, where the lone cricket pitch is at a spot that was used as shelter and then became a site of massacre in the genocide of 1994.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care