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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 15 July, 2020

'We wouldn't have dreamed of this opportunity when we first started playing'

Gary Wilson looks ahead to Ireland’s historic Test match against England at Lord’s.

AS AN IRISHMAN made history in front of the Lord’s pavilion last weekend, a debate raged over whether we should feel proud of, or resentful towards, Eoin Morgan for captaining England to World Cup glory.

Some were angered, others just enjoyed the thrilling drama for what it was, and most took great joy in watching Morgan — two decades on from first picking up a bat in north county Dublin — achieve his dreams, while sharing the moment with those who had made it all possible. 

Ireland field in front of the Lord's pavilion Ireland playing at Lord's back in 2017. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Whatever your views on Morgan’s decision to pursue an international career with England, and whatever you felt last Sunday watching or reading about his achievements as captain of their national team, the positive effects it has had, and will have, on Irish cricket are unequivocal.

For a young kid from Rush Cricket Club to become a World Cup-winning captain is remarkable and Morgan’s achievements have always put that small club in north county Dublin, and indeed Irish cricket, on the map, no more so than the last seven days.

What has been forgotten amid the frenzied rush to criticise the 32-year-old for his career choices are the positive contributions — and there were many — Morgan made during his 63 caps in an Ireland jersey, and who knows how many young Irish kids he will inspire to pick up a bat, or simply to follow their sporting ambitions and not let anything or anyone get in the way, after this.

While circumstances at the time meant Morgan was unable to follow his ambitions of playing at the highest level for his native country, those problems no longer exist for future generations, with Irish cricket having come of age after a decade-long quest to be accepted.

Growing up, Morgan was among cohorts of Irish cricketers denied the chance to harbour aspirations of playing on the Test stage for their country, but this week, many of his former Ireland team-mates will achieve their dreams at Lord’s, the Home of Cricket.

The significance of Wednesday’s historic occasion cannot be understated. To play a Test match is special, to play a Test match against England is even more special, but to do so as an Irish cricketer at Lord’s? Well, that’s a dream.

“I don’t think anyone would have dreamed of this opportunity when we first started playing for Ireland,” Gary Wilson tells The42. “To think we now have this opportunity is special.”

Although Graham Ford’s side have played two Test matches since Ireland’s ascension to Full Membership status of the International Cricket Council two summers ago, this is the one so many people have been waiting for. England at Lord’s.

“I would have played in a couple of sell-outs games at Lord’s for Surrey but it’s going to be a different experience playing there for your country in a Test match,” Wilson continues.

Ireland v England - One Day International - Malahide Cricket Club Ireland's Gary Wilson in action against England last May. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“Walking through the long room will be a pretty special experience. I guess there will be a sense of acceptance for Ireland in international cricket. We played the One-Day International there two years ago and like it was then, there will be a sense of this is the culmination of the hard work over the years and that we deserve this opportunity.”

When captain William Porterfield leads his team onto the hallowed Lord’s turf on Wednesday morning shortly before 11am, another glorious chapter in Irish cricket will be opened.

There have been many in the last decade, each as important as the next on this journey to the top table of the sport, but few will top the significance of Ireland going head-to-head with world champions England at such an iconic sporting venue.

After defeat to Pakistan in their maiden five-day game, and a narrow loss to Afghanistan last winter, Ireland are waiting for their first Test match victory, as they head towards what will be the sternest assessment of their credentials.

Wilson, who last winter returned home to take up a Cricket Ireland central contract after over nearly a decade in County Cricket with Surrey and Derbyshire, scored 33 not out and 12 against Pakistan in his only Test experience.

The 33-year-old missed the defeat to Afghanistan in India back in March after being diagnosed with a condition that affected his vision, before returning to the side for the ODI against England at Malahide in early May.

Wilson missed four months from the end of last summer to the start of this one with a condition so serious that he was doubtful over whether he would be able to play cricket again, meaning the Ireland wicket-keeper is extremely grateful to be back involved.

“It wasn’t looking great for a while,” he explains. “It just came out of the blue, I just woke up one day and sort of had double vision and it took a long time to figure out what was going on. Cricket Ireland were really good, they sent me to the right people and we were able to get things figured out.

“But, at one point, there was a definite possibility [he wouldn't play again] but once we were able to figure out what was going on and get on the right medication and stuff, it was looking a bit better. It’s brilliant to be back playing again now.”

Wilson is part of Ireland’s 14-man squad for this week’s Test, alongside fellow veterans of the side Porterfield, Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien, Andrew Balbirnie, Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin, while there is a sprinkling of youth in the selection.

Mark Adair and Lorcan Tucker have both performed impressively in white-ball cricket this summer, most recently in the one-day series victory over Zimbabwe, and are included, as is opening batsman James McCollum, but Ireland’s red-ball preparations have been far from ideal.

GaryWilson Source: The42

A rain-disrupted game against Middlesex 2nd XI can hardly be considered the best way to prepare for the challenge of facing England, who have five of their World Cup winners — including Test captain Joe Root — in their squad.

“It will be a pretty daunting challenge for some guys, well actually for everyone in the squad, to go out and play a Test match at Lord’s in front of 30,000 people,” Wilson admits.

“First and foremost we want to put in a performance. There is no point in getting to Lord’s and just accepting we’re here and this is brilliant. Almost accepting it as a fanfare moment and settle for how great it is for Ireland to get a chance. We’ve never wanted to play cricket like that.

“We’ve wanted to get there, put in a performance and do well. We realise there are going to be a lot of Irish people there, we realise there is going to be a big crowd who want us to do well.

We hope we can go there, put in a good account of ourselves and you never know, you just never know if you play well.

Ireland will need to get a lot right if they are to stand any chance of pulling off a major upset, starting with Wednesday morning’s coin toss. The prospect of Ireland’s top order facing a fit-again James Anderson with the new ball under grey skies evokes a sense of foreboding. 

Wilson adds: “Although our best chances of winning the game may be to bowl first, it would be a big call from the captain to do so if we rock up on Wednesday morning and there’s not a cloud in the sky.

“It just could be a very flat pitch and our best chance of getting a positive result may be to bat first. I’m glad it’s not me that has to make that decision but either way, their Test side isn’t as settled as their one-day side and they have a couple of new faces, so we’ll try and put them under pressure early.”

Whatever the result, it will be a momentous occasion for Irish cricket. 

“We’ve been lucky enough to play in World Cups, and had good results and good days, and I’ve been very fortunate to have had a career to be thankful for, but to play a Test match at Lord’s, there are plenty of international cricketers better than me who haven’t done that, so to do so is something I’ll be very grateful for.

“It’s a huge opportunity, a huge moment, and we all just want to enjoy it and show what we’re capable of.”

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Ryan Bailey

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