On a bright sunny day at Dublin, yesterday, Ireland cricket team started a new journey…….
Soon when sunnkissed Malahide in Dublin, it was a sigh of relief for the 11 restless Irish cricketers, who were soon to join the elite club of Test cricketers. The moment of glory was already delayed by a day after the opening day of their maiden Test was washed away by the rain. At 10.10am, local time, William Porterfield led his boys into the Village Cricket Club’s outfield. The field already had their chairman of selectors, Andrew White, with a cardboard box full of handsome Test caps. He handed the caps out, one by one, first to Captain Porterfield and then the rest in alphabetical order.
Porterfield, Andy Balbirnie, Ed Joyce, Tyrone Kane, Tim Murtagh, Kevin and Niall O’Brien, Boyd Rankin, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson and Gary Wilson – the first Irish XI in Test cricket.
As they received the caps, some of them looked like they were fighting tears and why not, they had waited for this moment for a very long time. The Irish cricket community is small but they are really enthusiastic about their cricket. Over the years, a lot of boys and men have had day-dreamt about this moment and only eleven of them are living it today.
It was a usual May morning, not a cloud in the sky and around 5,000 fans were in the stands waiting to witness their country’s historic moment in cricket. The moment arrived when Porterfield won the toss and put their opponents, Pakistan, to bat first. In the course, Porterfield also became the first captain to choose to bowl first in his country’s debut Test. When the local time struck 11am, Tim Murtagh became the 11th man to deliver a nation’s first ball in Test cricket.
Ireland’s XI was filled with right-arm pacers. Their opening bowling options – Murtagh and Rankin were their most experienced men. Murtagh had 712 wickets from 210 First-Class matches having played with distinct clubs like Surrey and Middlesex. Meanwhile, Rankin, who had 344 wickets from 105 First-Class matches, was playing his career’s second Test. He had earlier played one as an English player and so, on Saturday, Rankin became the first player, since Kepler Wessels to have represented two countries in Test cricket.
Porterfield, with an experience of over 12 years in cricket went on to later say that Pakistan were nervous in the beginning. The touring team was more or less inexperienced; they gave a debut to Imam-ul-Haq and Faheem Ashraf, their No.3, Haris Sohail has played two Tests before this, and their No. 5, Babar Azam, 11. Since the pitch was damp and grassy, Porterfield was sure Pakistan batsmen would struggle. Ireland’s Murtagh is moreover known for his style of exploiting the moisture on the wicket. And the rain on an opening day literally had set the centre stage for Murtagh to attack the opponent batsmen.
Murtagh, still pumped up with the cap-ceremony, over-pitched his first-ever Test delivery that landed on Pakistan’s Azhar Ali’s feet. God knows what struck Azhar’s mind, he flicked the ball down the ground and within a spilt second took off for a quick single. There was absolutely no need for that, especially when it was just the first ball of the innings. Imam, from the non-striker’s end, ran in a rush, only collide with both the keeper, Niall O’Brien and Kane, who was sprinting in from square-leg.
Imam was knocked flat on the ground and at that very moment, everyone thought he was injured seriously. However, the youngster passed the concussion test and was back on his feet five minutes later.
The Irish bowlers kept their lines in check, they moved the ball consistently and that hardly allowed Pakistan to score runs in the first half an hour of the first session of the second day. As the ball slowly lost its shine, Ireland still continued to attack with their disciplined line and length, while Rankin troubled Pakistan with his short balls from the other end. The second history-making moment came soon when Azhar defended Rankin’s ball to Porterfield at slip.
It was Ireland’s first Test wicket.
Then very next ball, Murtagh trapped Imam leg before wicket to bag his maiden Test wicket and suddenly, Ireland had made two breakthroughs, in a span of two balls, inside the first hour of their Test debut. Following the two back-to-back dismissals, Ireland went more aggressive; Porterfield sometimes had five fielders in the slip cordon. Pakistan were 13 for 2 and they could have gone 13 for 3 had Thompson hit the stumps at non-striker end when Harris was stranded down the pitch. This and Murtagh almost got Asad Shafiq caught at slip later in the over.
Following that over, Porterfield made his first bowling change and brought in Kane. It was a huge moment for the local player as he was making his Test debut in his very second year into professional cricket. He sure was nervous as he started with a no-ball but eventually settled in well as he ended with figures of 84 runs in 12 overs, including two maidens.
The Pakistani duo of Asad Shafiq and Haris Sohail sort of looked to getting tempted with the movement and pace but they played a responsible innings. They controlled their urge of attacking as they brought up a crucial half-century stand for the third wicket. These two brought Pakistan back on track after the twin blows they suffered in the first hour of the day.
The ball continued to move, keeping slip fielders busy as the fans in the stands enjoyed thoroughly getting nosier with time. The Irish pacers generated inside edges every now and then but for most of the times, the ball went past the slip fielders. But, that did not stop Poterfield’s players to consistently attack their opponents. Shafiq and Sohail batted through to lunch. Thompson seemed to have one clear-cut idea in Test bowling – he did his bit with the ball and waited for the batsman to play a bad shot. That happened on the last ball of the 30th over. Thompson had Sohail caught at gully for 31 runs off 61 balls and then Pakistan’s captain Sarfraz Ahmed at the slip for 20 runs.
In the meantime, Murtagh removed struggling batsman Babar Azam and Rankin’s short ball did the job against set batsman Shafiq, who top-scored with 62 runs off 121 balls.
Just when Ireland thought they could bowl Pakistan out before the end of day’s play, bowling all-rounders, Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf entered the party. When the conditions became a bit easy post tea, Shadab and Faheem showed their batting skills against the Irish challenge. Shadab and Faheem had one Test between each other and it was the former who stepped up first with the damage-repair process. Then, debutant Faheem followed the teenager in the same. He earned two lives in the course, when he was dropped on 24 and 36 before he became the fastest half-centurion for Pakistan on debut, bringing up his 50 off only 52 balls.
Soon after that, the 19-year-old Shadab registered his maiden half-century. Umpires then called off the play because of bad light. Even the second day was hit by the weather as it lost 22 overs off the 98 scheduled overs of the play. By the time stumps arrived, the advantage, which rested on the Irish side for the most of the day, had shifted to Pakistan, courtesy of unbeaten seventh wicket stand of 109 runs between Shadab and Faheem.