• 12 May - 18 May, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

On May 11, Ireland will become the 11th cricket nation to play a Test match. That it comes against a Pakistan that is rebuilding its batting is a bonus. Neither side will forget that fateful match at the 2007 World Cup where Ireland knocked out Pakistan on what was St. Patrick’s Day, albeit narrowly. Nor the close finish in a high scoring game a couple of seasons back as Pakistan toured England for a 4 Test series and limited over games.

Pakistan would be taking Ireland lightly at their own peril therefore. They may be playing their first Test match but their proximity to England and interchangeability of players means that if Boyd Rankin plays, not all the Irishmen will be making their Test debuts. Rankin has played a Test match for England in Australia a few years back and like many of the Irish play or have played regular county cricket in England. There is Paul Stirling who bats and bowls off spin for Middlesex, Stuart Poynter who keeps wickets for Durham, Barry McCarthy who bowls fast medium also for Durham, Gary Wilson who bats for Derbyshire and Tim Murtagh who bowls fast medium for Middlesex.

Their captain who will go out to toss with Sarfraz Ahmed on Friday, William Porterfield, has played for Warwickshire and Gloucestershire and Ed Joyce, his likely partner to open the innings, has played for Middlesex and Sussex. Joyce has also played ODIs for England.

Nevertheless, it’s an aging side. William Porterfield is 33, Ed Joyce is 39, Tim Murtagh is 36 and Boyd Rankin 33, pretty old for opening bowlers and Niall O'Brien who is likely to keep wickets is 36.

Considering Ireland’s strength is their seam and swing bowlers, that is a risk they are carrying in the sense that injuries can occur if Pakistan bat long. It may be recalled that Boyd Rankin, when he made his Test debut in Australia in the final Test of the 2013-14 Ashes, went out of the ground twice with cramps in one over.

Still, alongside Tim Murtagh he will form a formidable pair for the surely edgy Pakistani openers on what is expected to be overcast conditions throughout the game and a greenish pitch. The Test match is being played in Malahide, the largest cricket ground in Ireland on its eastern coast, which means there will be swing aided by the sea breeze.

Aiding the two experienced bowlers will be Stuart Thompson, Tyrone Kane, and Kevin O'Brien; each of whom can be cunning in their seam movement in helpful conditions. Considering Pakistan were bowled out for just 168 against Kent in conditions expected in Malahide, the five will be licking their lips in anticipation of bowling at Pakistan’s top six.

As such it is likely that they will keep out the spinner from their final XI. If they do Paul Stirling, their brilliant opening batsman, is likely to turn his arm over for some off spin. Likewise their captain William Porterfield who also bowls off spin.

What will be most interesting to watch is their batting as it remains untested over a five day period. Like many debutants before them they have not been tested other than an occasional game as a List A fixture. They will be relying on the players who have played county cricket for the long innings temperament but then Test match is another planet altogether.

Their innings is likely to be opened by William Porterfield himself. He is a compact left handed batsman who during the Afghanistan T20I series early last year, became the first player from Ireland to cross 1,000 runs in T20Is.

Opening the batting with him is likely to be Ed Joyce, who has played for England in that position in ODIs and also for Ireland for whom he has scored almost 2000 runs since 2011. Like Porterfield he bats left handed but unlike him Joyce is a hard hitting batsman who is not averse to playing the risky shots.

Pushing him for the opening slot is Stirling who is equally an exciting stroke player Considered as one of the best batsmen to play for Ireland. He or Joyce may bat at one down to accommodate the other.

What will worry Sarfraz and the Pak bowlers will be the fact that Stirling has two ODI hundreds against them, one in Belfast and the other in Dublin, the latter one leading to a tied game. That not only gives him confidence to play the Pakistani bowlers but also puts a little amount of fear in the touring bowlers. Perhaps the only thing going against him is that none of the Pakistani bowlers he will be facing were bowling in either of those games.

Then come the O’Brien brothers and all-rounders, Niall and Kevin. While Niall keeps wickets and is likely to do so in this Test, Kevin is the hard hitting batsman who also bowls medium pace swing and seam. Pakistan may not be too bothered though as Kevin is more in the limited overs frame of mind. He is the one who smashed England to all parts of the ground in a spectacular

and massive hundred at the

M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore in the 2011 World Cup.

But the manner in which it came will nevertheless rattle a few Pakistani hearts. Set 329 to win Ireland were something like five wickets down for just over 100. It was then that Kevin launched his memorable hitting, scoring the fastest hundred in World Cups off 50 balls and in the process saw Ireland cross England’s pretty tall score against all odds. And recall that it was his unbeaten patient 16 off 52 balls that saw Ireland home in that 2007 World Cup encounter against Pakistan. In effect he was there when Pakistan went out of the World Cup. Sweet memories and he will be smiling at the Pakistanis, none of whom played in that game.

Altogether it seems that the odds are pretty much even with Pakistan slightly ahead on the basis of experience. Pakistan have the bowling attack in Amir, Rahat, Hasan, Abbas and Shahdab to trouble the batsmen. Among them, Hasan Ali is likely to miss out as Mickey is likely to go with the more experienced bowlers in Amir and Rahat while Abbas’ bowling style is more suited to the conditions. I would also play Fahim Ashraf, maybe at No.6, as he is on occasions quite fast and touches 150 km when in rhythm. Shahdab can bat gives Pakistan batting depth till No.8 if they go for Azhar, Imam, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam in the top five.

Whatever the selection, Pakistan can ill afford to relax even if they get ahead in this Test match. The Irish are playing on their home ground and the home support and conditions can more than augment the luck of the Irish. •