Pakistan have a relatively young squad, and Ireland will hope to cash in on home advantage in their maiden Test match.
Ireland v Pakistan
Fri 11 May to Tue 15 May; 11:00 local (10:00 GMT)
History is within touching distance for the Ireland men’s cricket team. On Friday, 11 May, they will line-up against Pakistan in Test whites for the first time at The Village in Malahide, Dublin.
It isn’t Ireland’s maiden Test – Ireland Women beat Pakistan Women by an innings and 54 runs in 2000 in their only Test match – but Friday marks the culmination of the efforts a generation of Irish male cricketers.
For the likes of Ed Joyce – who at the age of 39 will be one of the oldest Test debutants if he makes the XI – the O’Brien brothers Kevin and Niall, and William Porterfield, the team captain, the journey has spanned over a decade, during which they went from a side of giant-killers in limited-overs cricket to finally earning Full Member status last year, along with Afghanistan.
"For the 11 lads who will take the pitch, it will be a fantastic occasion for them and their families, but we have to also remember everything that has gone before in Irish cricket in terms of getting us to this stage, over the years,” said Porterfield in the lead up to the match.
"You’ve got a lot of past players – some of them are here with us, some aren’t, but we have to remember and recognise what they have done to get us to this stage because if it wasn’t for them, and everything that they have done, we would not have been lucky enough to be taking the field, come Friday.”
That they face Pakistan, No.7 in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings, adds to the occasion. Ireland famously got the better of them in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, a result which prompted the rest of the world to take note of the side.
“It is a privilege to be a part of this historic Test match and all of us are really looking forward to it,” said Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain. “Ireland, who have a great tradition of cricket, are playing at home and I wish them all the best in this big moment.
“Ireland players feature prominently in the ICC ODI and T20I player rankings, and I am confident that in due course they will also make their mark in the Test rankings.”
As for the cricket, Pakistan have a fairly young side – as many as five players are in line to make their Test debuts – and Ireland will hope to bring all their first-class experience to the game, and capitalise on any possible jitters on the part of the visitors.
That said, history is against Ireland. Not many teams have found success early in the Test journeys – Bangladesh, the most recent Test side before Ireland and Afghanistan, played their maiden Test in 2000 against India, but it took them 33 matches to register their first win.
And even if somehow Ireland do manage a fairy tale win, it won’t be enough to put them on the rankings table. Ireland will have to play eight Tests before making the grade. They do get points, though – 90 for a victory, and 40 for a draw. As for Pakistan, a win will gain them a solitary point, and anything less will result in them losing points.
All said, this isn’t about the numbers. It’s about the occasion, and Ireland will be celebrating, irrespective of the result.
William Porterfield (Ireland): The first Test captain of the Ireland men’s team will not just have to carry the weight of expectations, but also ensure the rest of the side doesn’t succumb to nerves in front of home supporters in Malahide. “It's in Ireland, it's in May, so it's in our own conditions,” he said while explaining why Ireland should hope. The captain, first and foremost, will have to lead by example.
Imam-ul-Haq (Pakistan): The nephew of former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, Imam, 22, has impressed in his few outings for Pakistan so far. He scored a century against Sri Lanka on his one-day international debut, and has scored half-centuries against Kent and Northants in the tour games ahead of the Test.
What could possibly be a spoilsport on this momentous occasion is the weather. Rain is forecast for a majority of the next five days, although if it relents, the cloudy conditions could play to the pacemen’s favour.
Ireland: William Porterfield (c), Andrew Balbirnie, Ed Joyce, Tyrone Kane, Andrew McBrine, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien (wk), Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Craig Young, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson (wk)
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (c/wk), Azhar Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Sami Aslam, Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Saad Ali, Asad Shafiq, Usman Salahuddin, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Rahat Ali, Faheem Ashraf