By Phil Rice
The culmination of many years of knocking on the door of the International Cricket Council (ICC), finally bore fruit last year when Ireland, along with Afghanistan, were admitted to the Test-playing fold.
They may not have players to compare with the established cricketing nations, at least as yet, but the acceptance of the country at the top table of international cricket is indeed a momentous achievement.
This Friday (May 11-15) Ireland play their maiden Test match against Pakistan at Malahide Cricket Club. It will be the first five-day match ever played by an Ireland team.
It is fitting that Pakistan are Ireland’s opponents for this historic match as there is considerable history between the two teams.
In 2007 it was Pakistan who provided the opposition at Ireland’s first World Cup match and remarkably Ireland upset the odds by pulling off a surprise victory. Players such as Trent Johnson, Andre Botha and Niall O’Brien suddenly came onto the Irish sporting radar.
This match kicked off a relationship that has since seen three visits to Ireland by the Asian team for ODI series, and they suitably now provide the opposition for the home team’s historic first Test match.
Ireland just failed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup recently when losing in the deciding fixture to Afghanistan. That was a major disappointment but this week’s match will help to restore pride back in the team as they reach the summit of international cricket after such a long period of waiting for recognition.
The home team have selected an experienced 14-man squad for the match. Players such as Ed Joyce (previously capped by England), captain William Porterfield, Paul Stirling and the O’Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, are familiar with the longer form of the game and the requirement to build a substantial innings, rather than concern themselves with the scoring rate.
The restrictions on the number of overs any bowler can bowl doesn’t exist in the Test format and the likes of Boyd Rankin (one Test for England), and Tim Murtagh can expect lengthy spells with the ball when they take to the field.
Pakistan have some of their full Test team currently involved in the IPL 20/20 league in India but despite that they will field a powerful eleven and will be firm favourites to win the match. It will be important for Ireland to get a foothold early on or it could be a long slog for the home team.
With over 20,000 Pakistanis now living in Ireland there will be significant support for the visitors. Cricket is the national sport in Pakistan and they are fanatical about the game. The match will have full TV coverage on RTE and highlights in the evenings. A capacity crowd is expected and it is all about the occasion, although Ireland would love to embarrass their much vaunted visitors, it seems unlikely.
Historic matches in Ireland’s history:
1969 – Ireland beat the West Indies at Sion Mills
One of the greatest West Indian teams in their history were bowled out for just 25. The visitors blamed their introduction to Guinness the previous night for their abysmal failure.
2007 – Ireland beat Pakistan in the World Cup
Ireland put themselves on the international cricket map with this memorable victory. The O’Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, starred as this week’s opponents were put to the sword.
2011 – Ireland beat England in the World Cup
Probably Ireland’s finest result in international cricket. A star-studded England team were blasted off the park by a remarkable innings of 113 by Kevin O’Brien. From this point onwards talk of inclusion as a Test nation took on real momentum.
2015 – Ireland beat West Indies in the World Cup
West Indies took Ireland lightly to their peril and fine batting by Stirling (92), Joyce (84) and Niall O’Brien (79*) saw Ireland win with four overs to spare.