Wednesday 26 September 2018

The ties that bind Pakistan and Ireland strengthened by growth in immigration

Ehtesham Ahmed has been honoured by the Pakistani community
Ehtesham Ahmed has been honoured by the Pakistani community

Gerard Siggins

Ireland owes a lot to Pakistani cricket, and not just for providing the opposition in the 2007 World Cup game that made Trent Johnston, Niall O'Brien and Andre Botha household names.

It kicked off a relationship that has seen the Asian side visit here three times for short ODI series, and now provides the opposition for Ireland's historic first Test.

Kamal Merchant has been honoured by the Pakistani community
Kamal Merchant has been honoured by the Pakistani community

It will be a big week not just for Irish supporters, but also those from The Land of the Pure. The Pakistani community here numbers more than 20,000 and as cricket is their national passion, many have taken to the game here.

Ehtesham Ahmed was a former captain of Karachi under 17s who came to Dublin to study, fell in love, and now lives and plays here for Balbriggan. He explains that, for many Pakistanis, Ireland was where they first played the game.

"Most guys play tape ball back home - a tennis ball covered in gaffer tape - as its cheap and easy to set up. I'd say no more than a dozen of the guys playing in Leinster ever played real cricket with a hard ball before they came here."

Yacoub Ali has been the most successful Pakistani in the Irish set-up over the last decade, winning two 'A' caps and representing Munster and Leinster. He too learned his array of bowling skills in tape ball, playing his first game with a real ball when he showed up at County Kerry CC.

There had been fine players earlier, such as Alf Masood in the 1980s and Tipu Gull and Shahid Ahmed in the early 2000s, but many more have arrived since the boom. Last year, 358 Pakistanis played in Leinster competition, just under 20 per cent of the total.

An important figure in the story in Kamal Merchant, who first came to play as a professional in the 1980s and is now in his 27th season here. As a coach he played a big role in bringing on future World Cup star Kyle McCallan, and since he returned to Dublin he has overseen the development of future Ireland stars such as Jack and Harry Tector.

The Pakistani community recently instituted an award scheme and honoured Merchant and Ahmed for services to sport.

They will both be at Malahide, "wearing two green shirts" as the older man says, dreaming of their beautiful, benighted homeland of 185 million but delighted for their new home and the contribution they have made to its progress.

Sunday Indo Sport

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