Magic in Malahide
Somewhere beneath the dazzling lights of the IPL, the AFL season kicking into gear, the build up to the Football World Cup and the controversy around the new English Cricket Board creation — “The Hundred” (A 100 ball cricket match, because you know 120 balls is way too many) cricket history has been made. A welcome addition to the test arena, Ireland made their Test debut against Pakistan during the last week at the Malahide Cricket Club.
In typical British conditions the first day of this historic match was rained off. Day two began with soon to be 34 year old William Porterfield sending Pakistan into bat. With the final ball of the eigth over Boyd Rankin took the first Irish wicket in Test History. (His second of course he debuted for England in the 5th test of the 2013-14 Ashes Series.) One ball later Tim Murtagh snared Imam Ul-Haq to take his 713th First Class wicket and first test wicket. This outlines the talent at Ireland’s disposal, they and their soon to be counterparts Afghanistan are no mugs. They have plenty of experience within their ranks.
Steady wickets followed throughout. Stuart Thompson joined the party snaring three wickets, Murtagh finished with four and Boyd Rankin had slightly better time of his test match debut this time round, finishing with two wickets in the first innings. But this Test match didn’t just include Irish debutants. Faheem Ashraf in his first match and leg spinner Shadab Khan in his second, put together 117 for the seventh wicket, with Ashraf making 83 and Khan 55. Pretty amazing scenes thus far but Malahide was just getting itself started.
Pakistan 9/310dec. Ed Joyce strode to the wicket next to his skipper. Joyce, who has previously represented England in ODI’s before returning to the Irish green had waited so long for his chance at Test cricket as well. He is 39. He faced nine balls before being given out LBW to one which pitched outside leg. Ahh cricket you cruel temptress.
It went from bad to worse for Ireland, as they quickly went from 1/5 to 4/7 in the space of six overs. Joyce LBW 4, Porterfield bowled for 1, Balbirnie LBW for 0 and Niall O’Brien the same. Paul Stirling smashed some typically aggressive boundaries before he was dismissed for 17, Stuart Thompson had his stumps disturbed by Shadab for 3 and Tyrone Kane went to the same man two balls later. Suddenly it was 7/61 and when Kevin O’Brien was caught at cover for 40 the Irish were 8/73. Maybe their batting wasn’t quite up to the red ball version.
He is 39. He faced nine balls before being given out LBW to one which pitched outside leg. Ahh cricket you cruel temptress.
Enter 33 year old Gary Wilson who plies his trade for Division Two County side Derbyshire. Batting at 9 for an unknown reason Wilson (33*) combined with Rankin (17) and Murtagh (5) to get Ireland to 130 all out. 180 behind. Plus due to the first day being washed out, Pakistan were able to enforce the follow on and with Mohammed Amir in their side, they did.
Joyce and Porterfield had another opportunity. The beauty of test cricket, if not cricket in general.This time they took it. They finished the day together at the crease and combined for 69 in the second innings. Unfortunately Balbirnie was dismissed for a duck again. A pair on debut, not everyone had their dream start in the Test arena.
Niall O’Brien scratched together 18 in his second go, Stirling contributed 11 and Porterfield 32. Gary Wilson at seven this innings made just 12, before Malahide was witness to the Irish hero it had so long awaited.
Putting on 114 for the seventh wicket, Stuart Thompson (53) and Kevin O’Brien (118) put Ireland in the lead for the first time in Test history. O’Brien, the typical Irishmen, pale skinned, red hair and one can only assume a jovial character, became the first man from the republic to make a test century.
O’Brien is not new to amazing centuries. He is one of five Irish cricketers with a World Cup century. His came in their famous victory against England in Bangalore, 2011. That century is also the fastest in World Cup history off just 50 balls. So yeah, Kevin O’Brien doesn’t half mind the big occasion.
This time round Kevin took 344 balls, on a seaming wicket, following on and dragged his side to the lead. He was dismissed early on day five, as was his side, in front by 159. All cricket lovers will know that can be more than enough. Especially with a bit of Irish luck.
Fourth ball of the first over. Murtagh to Azhar Ali, the same man who was impenetrable at the MCG a few summers ago. Ball pitches on off stump, straightens, catches the edge and falls safely into the pouch of Stirling at first slip. 1/0.
Fourth ball of the fourth over. Rankin to Sohail. The ball rises off a length, Sohail forcing off the back foot edges to gully where the 39 year old Joyce catches just above his ankle. 2/13.
Third ball of the fifth over. Murtagh again, trots in his somewhat awkward style and sends down a fullish ball just outside off stump. Asap Shafiq’s eyes light up and he starts a booming off-drive. All of this to no avail as his off stump is leaning back at a 45 degree angle. 3/14. Is this happening?!
Alas another Pakistan debutant stood in their way. Imam Ul-Haq, along with Babar Azam (12th test) dug in and with absolutely no sense of theatre put on 126 for the fourth wicket. Azam makes 55, run out by Balbirnie, the man with a debut pair. Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed is lbw to Thompson on 8, before Ul-Haq (79*) and Khan (4*) see Pakistan home to a five wicket win.
However for the Irish this was almost everything they could’ve wanted. A test debut. At home. A centurion. A sniff of victory. A crowd on its feet. A chance to show the world they won’t give in. That they’ll take on anyone. This truly was a great occasion for cricket. T20 may bring people in, but moments like these in Malahide will make sure people stay.