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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 25 May, 2019
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'Something that has been a dream for a long time is finally going to happen'

Excitement is building ahead of Ireland’s inaugural Test match this Friday.

AN UNBELIEVABLY EXCITING week for Irish cricket, and the realisation of what felt like a pipe dream for so long, will lead to a varying range of emotions come Friday morning, but ultimately a maiden Test match will be played to a piquant backdrop of pride.

Ireland Cricket Squad Ahead Of Test Series vs Pakistan The Ireland Test squad pictured at Malahide yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For so long, the prospect of joining the pantheon of Test greats was a distant hope but a journey travelled at remarkable speed will come to a fulfilling end on Friday, as Ireland step into the five-day arena against Pakistan at Malahide.

It will be a surreal occasion for everyone involved in Irish cricket, not least the 14 players who have the distinction of being named in Ireland’s first Test squad, but the thousands of people — volunteers, coaches, administrators and club members — who have played their part along the way. Many of them will be in attendance, enjoying the achievement and their part in history on a landmark day.

Over the course of the last decade, starting with that indelible win over Pakistan in 2007, a result which initiated this quest for ascension, Ireland have knocked relentlessly on the door.

Those dazzling days in Jamaica, Bangalore and Nelson fuelled the ambition and persistence to push for change, challenge the traditional structures and strive to become one of the best, but with the highs came disheartening setbacks and the apprehension that it would never happen.

The case was compelling, but nobody was listening.

So for that reason, and many more, Friday will be just reward for the achievements on the field and the tireless work of Warren Deutrom, the Cricket Ireland CEO, and his staff in lobbying for Ireland’s chance to sit, justifiably, at the top table of the sport.

And now, after all the build-up, the day — that moment — has very nearly arrived, with Ireland’s preparations intensifying in Malahide yesterday ahead of what promises to be an emotionally-charged occasion.

“There’s a huge amount of excitement, particularly among the players, but people I bump into on the streets and cab drivers, they’re all talking about it,” head coach Graham Ford tells The42.

“Something that has been a dream for a long time is finally going to happen and it’s a huge thing for all, a great reward for the players and administrators who have got us to where we deserve to be. Hopefully, we step up on the big stage and play well.”

Ford last week finalised his 14-man squad, one which wasn’t without its surprises, as he named uncapped fast-bowler Nathan Smith in his panel and excluded George Dockrell and Barry McCarthy, much to the consternation of many.

Somerset v Ireland Ireland head coach Graham Ford. Source: Harry Trump

It’s no secret that preparations have been far from ideal as the weather has reduced the opportunity to get valuable practice time outdoors, and Ford — who took over from John Bracewell at the end of last year — admits his side will go into Friday undercooked.

“Preparations have been unfortunately disappointing as we’ve had almost no time outdoors and the nature of the pitches you get at this time of year are very different to indoor surfaces so that has been tough,” he continued.

“I think the little bit of outdoor time we’ve had over the last week or so has helped and I think a lot of it will be mindset. Hopefully, with a couple of good days training this week, we’ll be ready to go and can perform at our best — that’s the most important thing and if we do that, who knows what can happen?

“There’s no doubt preparations haven’t been good and we are a bit undercooked but that’s what it is. The mindset has to be good and with the big occasion and a bit of character, we have enough players who can cause some problems.

“Cricket is a funny game, a hell of a funny game, and we’ve seen strange results, amazing results, in the history of the game, and if we get off to a good start who knows what can happen.”

Certainly, the early-season conditions will favour Ireland and with a seam-bowling attack including Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin, the hosts will look to put what could be an inexperienced Pakistan side under early pressure.

The wicket at Malahide will be conducive to swing bowling and Ireland’s plans will revolve around exploiting that and exposing the Pakistan batting order, which struggled in similar conditions in tour matches against Kent and Northamptonshire recently.

But at the same time, history has shown that the transition into Test cricket is not always smooth with teams like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe all needing time to adapt to the demands of the five-day game before notching their first win.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

As such, no side has enjoyed a victory in its first Test since Australia beat England in the foundation Test at Melbourne back in 1877, which means anything other than a Pakistan this week would be classed as a huge shock.

Ford was quick to downplay the expectations of the thousands of supporters who will arrive in Malahide from Friday to witness a piece of Irish sporting history.

“The real satisfaction and excitement comes if the team play good cricket and that’s what I’m desperate for,” he added.

“To see them go out there and play with pride and play good cricket. We’re probably at a stage where we’re probably saying it’s not necessarily about winning but it’s about making progress as a group.”

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Ryan Bailey

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