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Dublin: 15 °C Sunday 26 May, 2019
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'A fantastic day': Ireland get a taste of the promised land in Malahide

Ireland seized their moment yesterday, but a spirited late-order revival from Pakistan leaves the visitors in the driving seat.

Ryan Bailey reports from Malahide

A MOMENT IN time which will take pride of place in the history books, as this idyllic village ground on a sunny Saturday stolen from July provided Irish cricket with a first peek of the promised land.

Andrew Balbernie and William Porterfield celebrate Paul Stirling catching Babar Azam Ireland took six wickets on the second day. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

It took 141 years to reach this epochal moment and the significance nor emotion was not lost on a near-capacity crowd who came to witness history and duly revelled in the early summer sunshine, savouring every minute of a fascinating day of Test cricket.

Rain and bad light would eventually curtail the action, not before Pakistan had launched an impressive rearguard action, but for so many reasons — and in so many ways — this was a wonderfully perfect and poignant day.

11 proud cricketers were presented with their Test caps shortly after 10am in front of the hospitality pavilion housing their family and friends, and then the national anthems carried added sentiment.

Niall O’Brien kept his sunglasses on as he said he would, perhaps hiding a tear or two. He certainly wasn’t the only one with something in their eye as 11am approached, for this was years in the making and the culmination of a remarkable journey travelled at great speed.

“A very proud moment for everyone, and not just for the 11, but for everyone associated with Irish cricket,” Gary Wilson said afterwards. “It was an emotional day.

“Everyone recognises what the 688 people (the previous number of Ireland men’s internationals) who had gone before us.

“They were on our minds and we were definitely the lucky ones that got their caps this morning, a great moment.”

Malahide was resplendent under clear blue skies, a piquant backdrop for Ireland’s bona fide first day as a Test nation. For so long a pipe dream, now a surreal reality. Pinch yourself territory all day.

At the end of it, Ireland were left physically and mentally drained, their exertions in the field demanding every last sinew to be expended, while Pakistan had moved into a position of ascendancy after the hosts’ early joy.

Ireland’s seam-dominated attack, led by Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin, bristled with intent and had the crowd giddily purring but, 76 overs later, had seemingly run out of ideas as their limitations were exposed by Pakistan’s Test rookies, Faheem Ashraf and Shadab Khan.

A general view of the action Malahide looked resplendent under blue skies. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

It had everything. The action ebbed and flowed, the momentum swung from one session to the next and this was Irish cricket as its stereotypical best; hustling and harrying the opposition with vigour with the ball and energy in the field. It was gripping.

And if there was ever a snapshot of why Ireland had desperately chased and chivvied further recognition over the last decade, then this was it in all its glory. A day at the Test in Dublin. It’ll take a while for that to sink in.

Ireland used all that emotional energy and channelled it into a purposeful first session with the ball after William Porterfield had called correctly and, unsurprisingly, opted to field first.

After all the build-up, it was suddenly 11am and Murtagh, handed the honour of bowling Ireland’s first ball in Test cricket, stood at the top of his run up. And then drama, a day’s worth.

Murtagh arrowed a yorker-length first ball in at the legs of Pakistan opener Azhar Ali and in fending into the legside and calling for a quick single, left debutant Imam-ul-Haq to be flattened by O’Brien and Tyrone Kane as he scrambled through. You couldn’t script it.

Adrenaline-charged, Ireland had their tails up.

The bowlers charged in from either end — drawing audible gasps from the stands as they beat the outside edge — and it was Rankin who would eventually make the breakthrough, becoming Ireland’s first wicket-taker in the five-day format. History.

With the last ball of the eighth over, he drew Ali forward with a good-length ball, forcing the outside edge and Porterfield made no mistake at second slip. And then a brilliant double-strike.

From the very next ball, 13 for one became 13 for two when left-hander Ul-Haq was trapped in front by Murtagh with a delivery which nipped back, sparking unrestrained celebrations in the middle and in the stands.

“It was a magic feeling to get my first wicket,” the bowler admitted. ”Test cricket has always been a priority for me and it’s fantastic that it has come round in my lifetime.”

It was worth the wait, alright.

Pakistan weren’t helping themselves, either. Haris Sohail tentatively prodded his first ball towards Stuart Thompson at point and, eager to get off the mark, very nearly sold Asad Shafiq down the river, but the Ireland all-rounder missed the run-out attempt when he had more time than he thought.

Tim Murtagh celebrates after taking the wicket of Imam-ul-Haq Tim Murtagh celebrates. Source: Rowland White/INPHO

Kane came into the attack and maintained the pressure with a busy spell, but Pakistan dropped anchor and rebuilt. That, in essence, was the story of the day. Ireland huffed and puffed, enjoying moments of success, but the visitors figured it out and moved into a position of control.

Shafiq is the star turn in their batting unit and although he cheaply donated his wicket to Rankin after lunch, slapping him straight to Andy Balbirnie at square leg, he had already started Pakistan’s rearguard action with a pugnacious half-century.

That’s the thing, this five-man seam attack moved the ball all day, and caused problems in the first two sessions, but there is no real potent strike threat when the tough gets going and the conditions don’t favour military medium. It’s all a bit samey.

Stuart Thompson picked up two wickets for his willingness to charge in time and time again and certainly the departure of Haris Sohail and captain Sarfraz Ahmed — both to poor shots — were key scalps during the afternoon session, as Ireland entered Test dreamland.

But, unable to add any variety to the attack, Graham Ford’s side went wicketless for 30 overs and the balance tipped towards Pakistan, with thick outside edges flying over or through the slip cordon and O’Brien deflecting a regulation chance away from Wilson.

Khan and debutant Ashraf showed just how quickly you can be punished at this level, their seventh wicket stand worth 109 runs in good time as Pakistan moved through the gears from 159 for six to 268 for six at the close.

Ireland were left to rue a day that ‘got away’, and Wilson afterwards was undecided on whether the hosts were happy with the close-of-play score or not.

“We were a little bit flat, that last partnership put on a 100, and there were a few opportunities missed,” he added.

“It was a shame really but up until that I thought we were magnificent. As a group, we bowled pretty well.”

As it is, Pakistan will be pushing for a score of 400 on Sunday morning but not even a spirited late-order recovery could take the gloss off this historic day, as Ireland seized the moment, producing a passionate performance leaving the crowd of over 5,000 craving more.

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Pakistan launch rearguard action to halt Ireland’s early joy at Malahide

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Ryan Bailey

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