Monday 19 August 2019

Andrew Balbirnie's Test diary: 'It felt like a home game... this is something special'

Ireland's Andrew Balbirnie. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ireland's Andrew Balbirnie. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Andrew Balbirnie

Monday - Training Day

My first taste of Lord's as an Irish Test cricketer. Things are different - we aren't here to play the MCC in a one-off friendly. I'm not here to net bowl to the touring Test teams as part of the MCC ground staff. It feels different because it is different.

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London can be a funny place; you stroll around and you are a nobody. But step through the Grace Gates and up the stairs into the away dressing room to prepare for a Test match and you very much become someone.

The first thing to do on arrival at a place like this is to find where you're going to sit in the dressing room for the next week. You want a good spot that isn't far from a viewing area but, most importantly, you don't want to be too close to the messy lads. I'm beside Gary Wilson so I'll have to report back on that one.

A huge bonus is getting the famous Lord's lunch on the training days, as nice a meal as we will have anywhere in London. I don't often eat in Michelin star restaurants but I think it could be close to it - three courses every day. I almost forget we are here for cricket. I always wanted to be a food critic.

Then it's over to the nursery for the important stuff.

The walk across the ground is always special, a look back to the pavilion, a look up to the media centre, taking it all in. Then pad up and get going.

Tuesday - Training Day

Bit of an excited schoolchildren feel about the place today, we trained in the afternoon which meant we spent the morning twiddling our thumbs just wanting to get going.

It was roasting hot and a couple of us walked to the ground from the hotel, via the picturesque coffee shops around Maida Vale. As we turned up towards St John's Wood Road we were met with a huge 'Come on Ireland' roar from a passing driver.

On arrival at the ground we went to watch a game of Real Tennis which is a strange combination of squash and tennis. Don't think it's for me, thanks.

Training was short and sharp due to the heat. There's not a lot that can be done around now, it's all mental prep for the Test ahead.

My partner Kate arrived tonight, which was great and helped put my mind at ease. I always get nervous the night before the game but this is different. This is Lord's and this is England.

Wednesday - Day 1

England 85 and 0-0, Ireland 207

Did that actually happen? Have we a 122-run lead after the first day having lost the toss at the Home of Cricket? I think I have about 50 bruises from pinching myself so much throughout the day.

As we walked out at 10.55am there were tears in my eyes as the MCC members applauded us onto the field. We were doing something that no-one from Ireland had ever done before.

Two hours later it was us doing the clapping, saluting one of our heroes as he walked off the field having also done what no other Irishman had ever done before. Tim Murtagh was so good and deserves all the plaudits, he is such a class act and our leader with the ball.

To spend a good part of the middle session with my best mate in front of a full house at Lord's was probably the highlight of my career to date. I grew up playing with Paul Stirling and we both went to England together and lived with each other. Stirlo is the best player I have batted with: calm, assured and class.

We laughed at one stage during that session as if to say we are the luckiest people in the world. As a batter I'll never be satisfied - of course I should be happy with scoring a 50 but I wanted more. I should have pushed on and been the man to get us a huge lead. I hope next time I can do that.

As the day finished and we too were all out, there was certainly a feeling of 'what could have been' in terms of a bigger lead, but boy would we have taken that at the start of the day.

At times it felt like a home game with such good support, but the job is nowhere near done.

This is something very special.

Thursday - Day 2

England 303-9

Can we have another session like yesterday's first session? No, of course not, and today's first session felt exactly how Test cricket should feel - hot, hard work and no reward.

We toiled but just couldn't make any inroads, but then it's called 'Test' cricket for a reason - if it was easy everyone would be doing it.

The chat inside the dressing room was no different to any other games. When it was scorching hot and batter-friendly conditions, Purdy and Murts just kept reiterating to us that we stay in it, don't lose patience, our rewards will come.

And they did - that second day was every bit as impressive as the first. Proper Test cricket.

The character shown in the middle and final session showed why we deserve to belong at the top table and be there more often.

I had a nice moment after I had left the field for a short break. I was sitting among the members waiting to go back on when one of them turned to me and said: "No matter what the result you guys have been incredible, you have shown why you belong at this level."

I didn't know what to say to him to be honest. I was, of course, polite in my reply but I also reminded him we are here to win and not just belong.

We are one good batting innings from producing what will be our greatest achievement. It will be hard work but that's what we signed up for.

Friday - Day 3

England 303 Ireland 38

It started so well with Thommo ripping through Stone first ball. I quietly looked at Stirlo and we mentioned how much that ball had moved.

Stirlo told me that when the lights come on it becomes a different game. And two hours later we certainly realised that.

It was hugely disappointing; we had worked so hard to get into a winning position and for it to come crumbling down so quickly was the lowest point of my career. We believed and we dreamt. But we move on and always learn.

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