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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

After historic Ireland-Pakistan cricket Test, where next for teams and key players?

Paul Radley looks at the potential futures of both teams, as well as those of Imam-ul-Haq and Kevin O'Brien

Pakistan did well in Ireland, but they are likely to face a stiffer challenge on their visit just across the Irish Sea. Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters
Pakistan did well in Ireland, but they are likely to face a stiffer challenge on their visit just across the Irish Sea. Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

Ireland’s first Test match was a broadly uplifting one for all involved.

They pushed established opponents, divvied out some dapper new caps, and had a Test centurion. And Pakistan got a win, which has been rare in their recent past in the long format.

So where to next for the two teams and their lead performers?

Pakistan

The simple answer is, a skip across the Irish Sea. The Ireland Test was basically a soft opening to what is likely to be a tough assignment in the UK.

England, who now host Sarfraz Ahmed’s side for two Tests, are by no means a great force of Test cricket at present. They have issues to address themselves, following a sorry winter that brought losses in Australia and New Zealand.

But home advantage counts for a lot in the current climate of Test cricket, and Pakistan are still trying to find their own way after the departures of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan a year ago. The win over Ireland was just their third in the past 12 Tests, and they will have to go some to improve that record at Lord’s and Headingley.

The young and promising Imam-ul-Haq left his mark on the Dublin cricket Test. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images
The young and promising Imam-ul-Haq left his mark on the Dublin cricket Test. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images

Imam-ul-Haq

He wears glasses. He has a famous uncle. If Imam-ul-Haq ever clicks on a link or reads a newspaper article about himself and finds neither of those two facts in the copy, then he should count it as an achievement.

He is going to find it hard to make a name for himself in the game, in particular while Inzamam is still in situ as the chief selector.

But the young left-hander has already provided plenty of evidence in his brief international career to date to suggest he can make it on his own.

A ton on one-day international debut in Abu Dhabi last year, and now a match-winning hand in a nervy run-chase against Ireland. And maybe Pakistan have even found a solution to their perennial issues at the top of the batting order.

Hope springs.

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Captain William Porterfield insisted emotions were not the reason for Ireland's defeat. Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters
Captain William Porterfield insisted emotions were not the reason for Ireland's defeat. Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

Ireland

This week was momentous for Irish cricket. Captain William Porterfield was at pains to say it was not the reason for his side’s defeat, but that their first Test had been awash with emotion.

And yet the actual fixture was really far less of a spectacular than much of what they have been involved in in the past. The TV audience will have been less than their white-ball triumphs of the past. The live-audience, too.

The players will likely feel far more at home when they return playing limited-overs matches against India and Afghanistan from now on this summer.

And so will Cricket Ireland’s finance officer. Hosting Test cricket is a loss-maker that Ireland cannot afford to repeat regularly.

Kevin O'Brien was close to an Indian Premier League deal once. Paul Faith / AFP
Kevin O'Brien was close to an Indian Premier League deal once. Paul Faith / AFP

Kevin O’Brien

When Brendan Griffin, the Irish minister of state for tourism and sport, was a guest in the commentary box at the Test, he said O’Brien’s achievements in cricket were up with the likes of Irish sporting greats likes Sonia O’Sullivan and Roy Keane.

Given the lack of opportunities Ireland have had relative to other sides, O’Brien’s is a remarkable body of work.

How he is not a regular at the world’s leading franchise leagues – Bangladesh and Caribbean apart - is difficult to fathom.

He was close to an Indian Premier League deal once. After his World Cup heroics in Bangalore in 2011, he was running an Easter camp for the youth section at his club in Ireland when he got a call saying Kochi Tuskers Kerala wanted to sign him as a replacement player.

He missed out because he had not been listed in the initial auction – which had taken place before the World Cup.