Ireland became the ninth team out of 11 to lose their first ever Test match but there was far more to the story of this historic occasion at Malahide.
Left-handed opener Imam-ul-Haq – like all of Ireland’s XI, bar Boyd Rankin, playing his first Test – and Babar Azam guided Pakistan towards an eventually comfortable five-wicket victory but the tourists’ pursuit of the 160-run target had not been straight-forward.
The dream debut victory is denied, but what a Test!— ICC (@ICC) May 15, 2018
Half-centuries from @ImamUlHaq12 (74*) and @babarazam258 (59) guide Pakistan to recover from 14/3 and reach 160 to beat Ireland by 5 wickets at Malahide.#IREvPAK scorecard ➡️ https://t.co/DtyJMHlrpi pic.twitter.com/QnQdoa49cZ
Ireland had added just 20 to their overnight 319/7, Kevin O’Brien failing to add to the magnificent 118 he compiled on the fourth day, falling to his first ball on the fifth morning, caught at slip off Mohammad Abbas going for a booming drive.
With Pakistan requiring 160 to win, Ireland sensed the possibility of a sensational victory, quickly reducing their opponents to 14/3. Tim Murtagh made the new ball talk to have Azhar Ali caught at slip and then clean bowling Asad Shafiq, while Boyd Rankin had Haris Sohail caught in the gully.
For all that early excitement though, Pakistan gradually took the game away from Ireland, thanks in no small part to 22-year-old Imam, who batted with patience and a sound technique to end on a well-made 74*. His 126-run partnership with Babar Azam (59) was the defining one of the day.
Their association could have come to an end much sooner than it did, but Andrew Balbirnie spilled a tough chance in the slips when Babar Azam had just 9 to his name.
Pakistan have won by 5 wickets. We may not have got the win, but it was a fantastic effort from every one of our team on a historic occasion. They’ve done us proud.— Cricket Ireland (@Irelandcricket) May 15, 2018
Thank you @TheRealPCB for a fantastic Test match.#IREvPAK #BackingGreen pic.twitter.com/9cSBRpOKk7
Babar was run out 50 runs later thanks to a mix-up with Imam, with the score on 142, and though skipper Sarfraz Ahmed followed soon after for 8 it was too little too late for Ireland, and Shadab Khan ended on 8* to help Pakistan over the line.
While it ended in disappointment for the hosts, this had been a performance of some heart and skill. Ireland had appeared dead and buried on Monday morning, in line for a humiliating innings-defeat. The resolve of O’Brien and Thompson in batting them back into the game and their spirited persistence today showed any future opponents that they will be no pushover in Test cricket.