The historic Test match between Ireland and Pakistan saw the hosts enter an exciting new chapter. After being awarded full member status by the ICC last June, along with Afghanistan, Ireland have learned a lot from their inaugural five-day airing.
Although Pakistan claimed a five-wicket victory, Ireland produced a thrilling comeback during the second half of day four – Kevin O'Brien Pakistan's tormentor-in-chief with a fine hundred – while the local fans have been exemplary in helping their nation celebrate this fantastic milestone. On Tuesday, both teams left the field with a cause for celebration.
Here’s what we learned from this memorable one-off Test.
Initiations are tough
Initiations don’t come easy. Australia remain the only side to have won their inaugural Test, beating England in Melbourne in 1877. It took New Zealand 45 matches and 26 years to record a Test victory after playing their inaugural Test in 1930.
Here in Malahide, half-way through day four Ireland looked to have been outclassed by an experienced Test nation, who were granted Test status in 1952 – five years after the creation of Pakistan itself. One heroic hundred later, Ireland were back in the game after a thrilling comeback. The Irish will take a great deal of confidence from this match.
Amir is world-class on one leg
After hobbling off during his fourth over on day three, Ireland’s respite from Pakistan’s leader of the attack proved short-lived. Amir bowled with real potency during the morning session on day four, despite clearly still being hampered by a knee injury.
With Pakistan's next Test in 10 days and having a stranglehold for most of the match, it was a tad surprising that Pakistan didn’t protect and preserve their fast bowler a little more. It was testament to just how much Pakistan depend on him. Ireland’s comeback proved Sarfraz Ahmed was right to take the risk – he knew his side didn’t have victory sewn up. Amir’s fitness in the five-day game remains a concern but his quality is undeniable.
Nowhere to hide in Test cricket
Andrew Balbirnie joined a star-studded list of players to record a pair on Test debut, proving just how unforgiving Test match cricket is if you find yourself slightly out of nick, as Amir’s excellence, despite being well below 100 per cent in terms of fitness, illustrated the step up in class.
However, Ireland’s No.3 is in great company – the list includes batting heavyweights Graham Gooch, Saeed Anwar, Marvin Attapattu and Dean Elgar, to name a few. The only way is up, Andy!
The oldies have still got it
Tim Murtagh, a 36-year-old county cricket stalwart making his Test debut, admitted that receiving his cap was an “emotional” and “spine-tingling” moment for him and his teammates. The fast bowler’s 25 overs in Pakistan’s first innings yielded 4/45, proving the veteran’s capability on the grandest stage.
Kevin O’Brien, 34, was the game-changer, while William Porterfield and Ed Joyce, 33 and 38 respectively, got Ireland’s second innings off to a solid start; if they hadn’t remained resolute at the end of day three, day four would have been a different story.
Whilst the average age of the squad is a concern going forward, Ireland’s stalwarts continue to prove their worth. They deserve to be there – some of them have been waiting their whole career to represent their country in a Test match.
You can’t keep the Irish down
More than 5,000 tickets were sold for Ireland's first day of cricket but not a ball was bowled, but what’s another day when you've waited as long as Ireland have to play their first Test match?
Even when it looked like it was just damage limitation by the home side half-way through day four, the local fans remained joyous, recognising the significance of this historic Test. Their support was fuel for O’Brien, who repaid the faith with aplomb.
This wasn’t just about this game, it was about what there is to come – the excitement of pastures new. Even Mick Jagger, the lead singer of The Rolling Stones, was there to celebrate the occasion!