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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Cricket enters a new world as Ireland begin Test era and Sandeep Lamichhane makes IPL debut

An encouraging first day for the Irish against Pakistan while a young Nepalese bowler held his own for Delhi Daredevils

Boyd Rankin celebrates with teammates after taking Ireland's first ever Test wicket. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images
Boyd Rankin celebrates with teammates after taking Ireland's first ever Test wicket. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images

“It’s almost like it’s a different country,” Will Porterfield, Ireland’s captain, mused at the toss, after crisp blue skies had replaced the Baltic torrents of 24 hours earlier.

The newly clement conditions meant Ireland’s men could - a day late but who’s counting – start their account in Test cricket.

A different country? Try a different world. On the same day as the Irish made their long-awaited, long-merited bow in the old format, 7,000-kilometres away a cricketer from Nepal was getting his own opportunity in the Indian Premier League.

Sandeep Lamichhane, who found out he had been drafted to cricket’s biggest show when on a nondescript tour for practice in Dubai earlier this year, finally got his chance for Delhi Daredevils.

And not in any old joke fixture, either. In opposition were Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. In front of a live audience of 48,000 at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in India’s capital, with millions more watching on TV. That’s all.

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Read more:

Ireland v Pakistan: Five things to look out for ahead of historic Malahide Test

Welcome to the club: Ireland in the Test arena, but membership comes at a cost

From Nepal to Delhi, Daredevils fan base grows on back of Sandeep Lamichhane

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Whisper it, but there appears to be a very real danger that international cricket might be becoming exactly that. International. Ireland were in the process of becoming the 11th team to play Tests. Afghanistan will be the 12th when they play India in Bangalore in less than a month’s time.

And, neatly enough, Lamichhane’s appearance in the Delhi XI means 13 countries have now been represented in the IPL.

Doors are ajar. They might not be fully open. But Ireland’s pioneers, the Afghan trailblazers Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, and now Lamichhane, are leaving them just enough agape for everyone else. The world beyond cricket’s ancient elite can start to believe.

Sandeep Lamichhane during his IPL debut for Delhi Daredevils. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Sandeep Lamichhane during his IPL debut for Delhi Daredevils. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

Maybe Mohammed Naveed from the UAE could be next. A tape-ball cricketer from Khorfakkan. Imagine that. It’s almost as fanciful as a 17-year-old from Chitwan, a district 100km from Kathmandu, playing with and against cricket royalty in the most-moneyed, most-watched competition there is. Crazy days.

This being cricket, even the triumphs of May 12, 2018 did not run perfectly smooth. It was Ireland’s debut in the five-day format. But their first five-day match will in fact be played over four days, what with the first-day washout.

When they did get to start, nerves were racing. “We’re only human, after all,” Porterfield had said after winning the toss and putting Pakistan in to bat.

So keen were the players to get an early touch of the ball, there was a nasty collision off the very first delivery.

UAE bowler Mohammed Naveed is ranked No 10 by the ICC for T20 bowlers. Pawan Singh / The National 
UAE bowler Mohammed Naveed is ranked No 10 by the ICC for T20 bowlers. Pawan Singh / The National 

Ireland’s rugby team are the Six Nations champions, and Niall O’Brien and Tyrone Kane did a passable impression of their compatriots from the oval ball code as they double-teamed Imam-ul-Haq. Had this been a rugby match, at least one of them would have been shown a yellow card.

A little while later, just as the novelty of seeing a new team in whites was threatening to give way to the realisation Test cricket is still the game’s slowest format, and that the IPL was about to start on the other channel, the match exploded into life.

Boyd Rankin took the first wicket, with such a classical mode of dismissal we might as well have been watching Australia against England in 1877. Aim for the top of off-stump, nip it away, and have the batsman – Test triple-centurion Azhar Ali, no less – caught at slip. Test cricket? Too easy.

Tim Murtagh also struck for Ireland, claiming the wickets of Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images
Tim Murtagh also struck for Ireland, claiming the wickets of Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images

Off the next ball Ireland sent down, Tim Murtagh had Imam LBW. It would have been a team hat-trick had Stuart Thompson hit the stumps to affect a run out off the next ball. Then a catch fell just short of Ed Joyce in the slips.

Ireland were in the ascendant, giving the impression of having the more first-class experience of the two sides – which, in fact, they have. But by the rain-enforced close, Pakistan had hit back, closing on 268-6.

Almost simultaneously, Lamichhane was about to be given his head on the other channel. And in the most daunting terms. He was tasked with bowling the first over of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s run-chase.

How the teenager thrived. He went for just two in his first over. By the end of his second, still in the power-play overs, and with Kohli and de Villiers by now at the wicket, he had 1-7.

It was majestic, and begged the question, why had Delhi kept him hidden all this time? He ended with 1-25 off four, and was comfortably the pick of the Daredevils attack.

A kid from Nepal. Against the game’s best. This felt like a new world.