Saturday 24 March 2018

Tim Murtagh grew up dreaming of playing for England – now he has them in his sights as Ireland target historic triumph

Tim Murtagh
Tim Murtagh

Sam Wheeler

Tim Murtagh has no problem admitting that he grew up dreaming of playing for England at Lord’s. Instead, on Sunday, in the autumn of his career, he will finally grace his home ground in an international for the first time – against the country of his birth. And he couldn’t be more excited.

“Any time you play at Lord’s is special,” says the Middlesex seamer, the key member of the Ireland attack in the absence of injured paceman Boyd Rankin. “I’ve been lucky enough to play there a lot, but to play an international game there, in front of a sell-out crowd, will be just another level.”

London-born Murtagh was a late convert to the Irish cause. He owes his international career to his surname: had he not been called Murtagh, his former Middlesex colleague Ed Joyce – still Ireland best batsman – would not have asked him, back in 2011, whether he had any Irish ancestry. He qualifies via a Dublin-born  paternal grandfather – getting the paperwork sorted out involved a trip to the south of France to dig out the grandfather’s birth certificate.

Had the Irish connection come through one of the other three grandparents, the questions would not have been asked and Murtagh would have remained a top-level county pro, maybe not quite good enough to play for England but certainly good enough to play international cricket.

The 35-year-old is the only member of the squad named to face England over the historic two-match Royal London series  born outside Ireland.

“Growing up in England, I knew my grandfather was from Ireland, but I dreamed of playing for England. When I was asked, I jumped at the chance – at the stage I was at in my career, I really wanted to do it. I was maybe 30, it was a chance to play international cricket, World Cup cricket, for a team that was going places, to test yourself against the best side in the world.

“I probably wasn’t going to get an England call – you hear whispers that maybe you were close the odd time, but I have no problem with the fact I didn’t play for England. I’ve enjoyed my career. Playing for Ireland has been great. And playing against England at Lord’s is going to be special.

“I was made to feel welcome right from the start, and not feel like an outsider.”

It helped that Murtagh has thrown himself into it, and he certainly had the pedigree; when he came on board, Rankin was moving in the opposite direction (the Tyrone man is now back in the fold after a couple of years with England – in cricket, players can switch allegiance from an ‘associate’ nation to a ‘full member’ and then back again, after various qualification periods).

Trent Johnston was nearing the end of his illustrious career in green, and Ireland needed an experienced opening bowler. Murtagh has taken 655 first-class wickets at an average cost of 27.01, which essentially means he has been very good for a very long time.

For Ireland, his figures are solid if not spectacular: 31 wickets in his 28 ODIs at 36.09, but an economy rate of just 4.72 offers an indication of his quality. He took 3-33 from 10 overs against England at Malahide in 2013 with an impeccable display of opening bowling to put his adopted nation on course for a remarkable victory before Dublin-born England captain Eoin Morgan (only in cricket…) won the game for the visitors.

Beating England at Bristol on Friday and/or at Lord’s on Sunday will require wickets with the new ball, something Murtagh consistently delivers for Middlesex, whom he helped to the County Championship last year. And he believes that the home side’s new attacking ethos gives Ireland extra hope of repeating their 2011 World Cup upset – rather than lay a platform and keep wickets in hand and rely on a late surge to get near 300, these days, England look to hit out from the start and keep going, taking repeated gambles in a bid to post huge totals.

“They have kicked on since the 2015 World Cup. They keep taking risks, and more often than not, it pays off for them,” concedes Murtagh – nicknamed ‘Dial M’. “Let’s hope this time it doesn’t. It gives us a chance. If we take a couple of early wickets, they will keep playing their way.

“We go in as underdogs, but we have shown we can lift our game on the bigger stage. The conditions should suit us better than the conditions in India (where a few weeks ago Ireland lost across three formats to Afghanistan – the emerging force in the world cricket).

“I’ve played against all the England batsman, and I’ve got them all out – and been whacked around by them. But I’ve got a good insight into them, and I’ll certainly be passing that on to the other bowlers, and making suggestions.

“We have to go in with no fear. I remember watching Ireland beat England in the 2011 World Cup, before I was involved, and just looking on in amazement at Kevin O’Brien’s innings – like most people. It just takes one person to play like. Kev, Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Gary Wilson have all played match-winning innings, and why can’t they do it again and win a game for us?”

Like everyone else involved in Irish cricket, Murtagh has been buoyed by last week’s International Cricket Council vote that effectively gives Ireland a pathway to Test cricket that could be confirmed next month; Ireland are hopeful of playing their maiden Test match next year.

“It’s really thrilling and fingers crossed, it will happen,” he says. “It would be amazing to play Test cricket for Ireland.”

Murtagh is contracted to Middlesex until the end of next season and is eager to keep playing “as long as possible”. With this week’s matches in England, Ireland hosting a tri-Nations series involving New Zealand and Bangladesh later in the month, plus World Cup qualifiers and a potential Test match next year, there has never been a more exciting time for the Boys in Green.

Tim Murtagh was speaking on behalf of Royal London, proud sponsors of the upcoming England v Ireland ODIs

Online Editors

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