Saturday 26 May 2018

Emotional scenes as Ireland's long wait ends

Blistering start follows tear-filled ceremony to mark historic first day of Test cricket

Tyrone Kane bowling against Pakistan at Malahide yesterday. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Tyrone Kane bowling against Pakistan at Malahide yesterday. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Ger Siggins

The new cap ceremony is always a proud moment as a young man or woman is welcomed into the elite circle. Yesterday in Malahide it was a bit different, as there were 11 players lined up to collect their two caps - one for wearing on the field and a golden, betassled one for the mantelpiece.

Maybe it would have been better to have conducted the ceremony on Friday, where the drizzle might have disguised the tears of the players overcome by emotion. A few wore sunglasses; Andrew Balbirnie and Gary Wilson openly wiped their eyes.

Former players found their eyes filling too, as did some of those older followers who remembered the hard times playing and watching a game that was for too long banished to the margins of Irish sporting society.

It was a joyful moment too. Ed Joyce was the first player to emerge from Ireland and make a professional career in the sport, laying the path for dozens of others. He had also sacrificed a decade with Ireland to try to become a Test cricketer with England. Now, closing fast on 40, he was the third man up to collect his caps from chairman of selectors Andrew White. He grinned over at his proud family and made faces at his sons Giorgiou and Sebastian.

Joyce had to wait a long time for that moment - and Irish cricket 141 years - so an extra 24 hours wasn't going to make much difference.

That mythical 'luck' that foreigners attach to us as a national characteristic was certainly not in evidence on Friday as the rains rolled in to spoil the party. But some of it returned at 10.30am when William Porterfield called correctly to win the toss.

He was quick to invite Sarfraz Ahmed to bat, reckoning his hand stacked with five seam bowlers would relish the chance to extract any movement to be had from a surface that suffered a serious soaking this soggy spring.

Unlike stadia, with their tightly-packed grandstands, cricket fields just don't suit anthem ceremonies, but the local Pakistani community did their best to belt out the Qaumi Taranah with its call to the citadel of faith to 'stay glad'.

Ireland's Call isn't an anthem of course, so although there were half-a-dozen pints already being sunk in Block B, the crowd participation level never got up beyond the odd bellowed 'Ireland' in the chorus.

To be fair, Boyd Rankin has been forever standing tall, ever since 2004 and he was first capped as a 19-year-old. At 6ft 8ins his height has helped him become one of Ireland's few world-class performers and he, too, detoured to the Three Lions for a time in pursuit of the Test dream.

To him fell the honour of taking Ireland's first Test wicket, his pace finding the splice of Azhar Ali's bat, sending the ball looping into the hands of Porterfield.

It was a great moment for the 33-year-old, who plans to return to his home to farm in Co Derry when his professional career is over. His previous Test experience had been forgettable, a mixture of illness and debilitating nerves causing him to bowl poorly and even forcing him from the field at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The only thing he emerged with from that game was one expensive scalp, of Peter Siddle, which allows him to claim the distinction as only the sixth man to take a wicket for two countries in Tests. The first four all played for England and Australia in the 19th century, while the fifth was an Egyptian called Athanious John Traicos who turned out for South Africa before sporting isolation and played for Zimbabwe more than 20 years later.

The very next ball, bowled by Tim Murtagh, straightened and thumped into the pads of Imam ul-Haq, convincing the umpire to give him out lbw. And had Stuart Thompson's shy at the stumps hit there would have been what schoolkids call a 'team hat-trick' and Pakistan would have been in disarray.

But he missed, and there was a period of recovery until lunch.

The visitors did their best to keep the Irish fielders on their toes with some harem-scarem singles, but escaped without damage to the scorecard. That couldn't be said about the players though, as Ireland's very first ball of the day caused debutant ul-Haq some serious pain. He was racing towards the wicketkeeper when Tyrone Kane came charging in to kick the ball at the stumps. Niall O'Brien arrived at the same time and ul-Haq's head smashed into the 'keeper's hip.

The youngster lay on the ground for some minutes and went through a concussion protocol before resuming.

The glorious weather encouraged custom in the beer tent and the crowd became noticeably louder as the afternoon wore on. Ireland's bowling quintet gave them plenty to shout about, with Murtagh, Rankin and Thompson equally sharing the first six wickets to fall.

Spectators came from far and wide to enjoy the historic moment: John McCormack from Muckamore and Pat Bracken from Thurles sat alongside Frank Lynch from Limerick and Mark Fagan of Ashbourne, all long-serving supporters of the world's newest Test team.

There was plenty of support for the cricketers' charity, the Lord's Taverners, which helps children with special needs achieve their sporting goals. Volunteers Ken Brennan and Philip Furlong were delighted with spectators' generosity, which increased as the day wore on.

Anthony Morrissey of the Civil Service club was there too, enjoying a stroll around meeting people he'd played with and against in his playing days. "Cricket is a gregarious sport," he grinned, "it's all about enjoying other people's company."

Merrion youth players Conor Austin, Sean Stanton and Sean Hussey came to cheer on their club-mates Joyce and Kane. They all help out with coaching in the Ballsbridge club every Sunday morning, where Joyce takes charge of the under 9s.

"When Ed talks, they all listen - it's amazing," said Stanton.

Ed won't be down this morning, though. He's got a Test match to win.

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