Ireland are fighting back at Malahide…..
Thus far we have had two days of cricket in this historic fixture at Malahide. Perhaps, by this time, the nerves of joining cricket’s the most exclusive club are settled in the Irish camp. Now it the time for the hard reality. Responding to Pakistan’s first innings score of 310 for 9, the hosts stumbled to 5 for 3 just before Lunch on Day Three and soon after the break, Ireland were tottering at 7 for 4.
From there, I must say, the Irish recovered pretty well to reach a first innings score of 130. Later, following on, their openers, Ed Joyce, who waited for 39 years to play his first Test and skipper William Porterfield battled it out for 26 overs to finish the day at 64 for no loss. At least the duo has brought some sanity to the proceedings for the hosts, who have been quite patchy on the field for the past two days.
In fact, for many people like me, who have followed Irish cricket closely for the past one decade, this has rather been a pretty average Test debut for them so far.
At the start of the Test match, on a damp wicket, got the ideal conditions to bowl against a relatively inexperienced Pakistan batting line-up, which we all know can be vulnerable against pace and swing. And the Pakistan top order did crumble when both openers — Azhar Ali and debutant Imam-ul-Haq — got back in the hut when the team score was just 13. From there, as the ball lost its shine, the Irish bowlers could not maintain the pressure.
However, the home side did make a come just before Tea, when Pakistan were reduced to 159 for 6, with all their top batsmen back in the pavilion. But again, unfortunately, Porterfield’s boys let go that golden opportunity to restrict Pakistan to modest first innings score.
One may think Porterfield should have attacked a bit more at that juncture. For instance, he should have immediately given Rankin an over before the Tea break, setting an aggressive field. A spell full of short-pitch stuff at that point would have unsettled both Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf. Unfortunately, that was not the case as the duo shared a 117-run stand for the seventh wicket to drag Pakistan out of that hole.
When Pakistan reached 300, Ireland were already behind the eight ball. Since then they have played a catch-up game and getting bowled out for 130 just sums up their effort.
Well, towards to end of play on Sunday, it was heartening to see some resistance from the home team. Both Joyce and Porterfield have presented a far better application compared to their first innings. Now, the challenge for them is to continue this batsmanship in the remaining part of the Test match.
However, despite the pace bowlers taking seven of the 10 Irish wickets in the first innings, I believe Shadab’s leg-spin is going to be Irish batsmen’s biggest threat on Day 4.
Ireland have a poor recent history against spin. In a recent fixture against Zimbabwe at the World Cup qualifiers, the opponent skipper Graeme Cremer used four spinners to bundle their batting order. Cremer, a leg-spinner himself took 3 for 18 in that game. So, here, there are high chances Irish batsmen struggling against Shadab, who already took 3 for 31 in the first innings.
Can Ireland prevail against all these odds to make a match out of this?
In this era of white ball domination, Test cricket is not exactly the most sought out format for the stakeholders, especially for the broadcasters and sponsors. Hence, under this scenario, no one wants to see a one-sided contest. Yes, in hindsight, we also cannot expect Ireland to roll over Pakistan straightway. But I believe, these Irish boys have enough county experience to put up a fight.
Well, with still 116 more needed to save an innings defeat, chances are really bleak for the home team. But this is their opportunity to show the world that Irish cricket belongs here, at the Test arena.