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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Imam-ul-Haq does the family name proud as Pakistan avoid shock defeat in Ireland's inaugural Test

Debut batsman hit an unbeaten half century to help the visitors recover from 14-3 to seal a five-wicket victory in Dublin

Imam-ul-Haq celebrates after helping Pakistan secure a five-wicket win over Ireland on Tuesday. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images
Imam-ul-Haq celebrates after helping Pakistan secure a five-wicket win over Ireland on Tuesday. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images

A match that was historic for the debut of a whole new team in Test cricket was eventually settled by a player making his own first appearance as part of a very established order.

Imam-ul-Haq has arrived in top-tier international cricket bearing the burden of a famous family name. Picked for the first time during uncle Inzamam’s watch as chief selector means his performances are certain to be under greater scrutiny than the average newcomer.

As if he did not already have enough to cope with in his first match wearing white for Pakistan’s senior team, by the time he started out his second innings, the potential of a shock defeat to Ireland loomed large, too.

It often feels as though Pakistan are only ever one defeat away from a crisis. It hardly bears thinking about quite what the response would be to one against a side as green and unheralded as Ireland.

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Yet this one-off Test proved two things. First, Ireland are anything but easy-beats. And, two, that there are signs there is a steely resolve about Pakistan’s Generation Next.

The Test in Malahide might have been Pakistan’s 413th, while their opponents were playing their first. But the tourists were, in fact, giving away much in terms of the amount of first-class matches their players have played in comparison to their hosts.

Imam was one of two debutants in their line up – the other being Faheem Ashraf – while Shadab Khan was playing just his second Test. All three made crucial contributions to the victory effort.

Shadab, 19, and Faheem, 24, shared a pivotal partnership for the seventh wicket in the first innings.

Then, second time around, the 22-year-old opener Imam and Babar Azam, his former colleague in age-group cricket, repaired the situation with Pakistan mired.

In the face of fine bowling by Tim Murtagh, the away side were 14-3, and on the brink. Imam and Babar, though, shared a shrewd alliance worth 126 as Pakistan stumbled across the line with five wickets left, and banished the unthinkable.

“Batting is very difficult here, and it was a great knock by Imam and Babar Azam,” Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, said in his post-match TV interview.

“We dropped a couple of catches, but they batted very well, especially Kevin O’Brien and [Stuart] Thompson.

“But credit to my bowlers and batsmen, especially Imam and Babar Azam. The way they played showed they have potential.

"We have to back them and hopefully they can become great players. We needed this kind of performance, and we are ready for England.”

While Pakistan now head across the Irish Sea for a familiar assignment against England, Ireland are barely any the wiser as to when their next Test will be.

The cost of hosting home matches is prohibitive for an organisation just getting to grips with precisely what being a full member of the ICC means in practice.

Cricket Ireland were only anticipating making half back on the €1 million (Dh4.35m) outlay they spent to stage this match. And that was before the €75,000 they had to give back to supporters who had advanced-sale tickets for the opening day, which was washed out.

Instead, their players will now return to limited-overs mode, with matches ahead against India and Afghanistan. They can look back proudly on their first crack at the longest format, though.

“There were some very good things to come out of this game,” Will Porterfield, the Ireland captain, said. “There were a lot of emotions going around, especially on the first day which was washed out, then the lads had to build themselves up again the second day.

“That was mentally draining, having to hang around for the start of the game, but the way we started, I couldn’t have asked for any more from the bowlers.

“I thought the whole way through the game we put up a very good fight.”