Ireland’s much awaited Test debut and its significance
Ireland played their first ever international Test match against Pakistan on home soil on May 15th; a date that Irish cricket fans around the world are not likely to forget anytime soon.
Ireland was awarded full member status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) last June, and became the first team to debut in the Test format since 2000, when Bangladesh debuted against India. The debut was a dream come true for many Irish players in the side who have been waiting for this moment their entire careers. The raw emotion and what the match meant to the players was clearly visible as the Test caps were handed out; with some of the players crying from sheer pride.
The match itself started off in unique fashion. Pakistan was sent in to bat, and the first ball from Tim Murtagh, a dead straight delivery, was played down the pitch with soft hands by Azhar Ali, who promptly set off to take a single. Imam-ul-Haq also set off from the non-strikers end, collided into wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien and Kane as he dived and seemed to be knocked unconscious. Fortunately Imam-ul-Haq passed the concussion test and was not seriously hurt, but if anything, the first ball was an indication of what was to come.
After a jumpy start, Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq steadied the Pakistani innings and set the base for the 310 runs the team would eventually score. Faheem Ashraf played exceptionally well against the Irish quicks and scored 83 of 115 balls. His innings was complemented by Shadab Khan who scored 55. In contrast, Irelands’ first innings was a bit of a nightmare; the first four batsmen were unable to make it to double figures, and the team seemed to be headed for a record low total.
Kevin O’Brien saved his team from embarrassment with a quick-fire 40 of 68 balls which allowed the rest of the team to limp to 130 all out. Pakistani skipper Sarfraz Ahmed sent Ireland in to bat again, which was hardly a surprise considering the huge lead Pakistan had amassed. Pakistan was in for a bit of a surprise however, Ireland seemed to have learnt from their mistakes and scored 339 in their second innings. Kevin O’Brien was once again the star of the show with a patient 118 of 217 balls. He joined an elite club of players who have scored centuries on test debut.
Pakistan, chasing a target of 160, seemed to be in trouble early on. The Irish quicks were swinging the ball in the air, and Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin got Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq out early on. Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam successfully steadied the innings and successfully took Pakistan over the line, albeit with a bit of a scare.
Regardless of the result, the match was a highly important one and was a major step towards the globalization of cricket. Afghanistan has also been granted full member status by the ICC and will join the list of Test playing nations soon. The addition of these new teams to the Test format is refreshing to say the least, and truly bodes well for the game.