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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

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

The home side will have 10 Test debutants – their only experience of the format coming from the one, ill-starred Ashes fixture Boyd Rankin played for England

Boyd Rankin is one player in the Irish ranks with Test experience to call on – although he might not want to revisit it. Nezar Belout / AFP
Boyd Rankin is one player in the Irish ranks with Test experience to call on – although he might not want to revisit it. Nezar Belout / AFP

Will Ireland be competitive? Will Imam-ul-Haq be able to bear the weight of a famous family name? Will the sun make an appearance?

There are plenty of issues that will be settled when Test cricket’s newest members make their bow against the might of Pakistan on Friday.

The debutants

The home side will have 10 Test debutants – their only experience of the format coming from the one, ill-starred Ashes fixture Boyd Rankin played for England.

But they will not have a monopoly on first-day butterflies. Imam-ul-Haq gave a hint that he has the talent to supersede the fact he is the nephew of the chief selector by scoring a century on his one-day international debut for Pakistan against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi last year.

The bespectacled batsman will have to work hard to offset the accusations of nepotism that might come with making his Test bow on uncle Inzamam’s watch, but he is keen to take up the challenge.

Pakistan's Imam-ul-Haq prays after reaching his century during the third ODI against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
Pakistan's Imam-ul-Haq prays after reaching his century during the third ODI against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo

The resistance

Ireland’s players may be as green as the trim on their cable-knit jumpers when it comes to playing Test cricket, but enough of them have been around the block enough times to know how to compete.

Ed Joyce will be 40 on his next birthday. The left-handed batsman will become the 19th oldest debutant in Test history. He has the pedigree of over 18,000 runs in 254 first-class games.

His recent past has been interrupted by injury, but by the looks of his fine one-day international century against UAE in Dubai in January he has clearly still got it.

He is not the only one with the capacity to impress. The O’Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, have a history of big-stage heroics. And it will be intriguing to see how well Paul Stirling – who proved to be a master at the T10 League in Sharjah last December – can transition from being a star of cricket’s very shortest format to its longest.

Ed Joyce in action for Ireland against the UAE in January. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Ed Joyce in action for Ireland against the UAE in January. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The weather

It is hard not to make a balanced analysis of Ireland’s accession to Test cricket without simultaneously pouring cold water on the overall idea – both literally and metaphorically.

Actually hosting matches is a loss-leader. Cricket Ireland’s annual finances will be propped up by the revenues brought in by T20 internationals against India later this summer. The Test itself is expected to recoup only around half of the cost of staging it.

And then there is the weather. The forecast for Malahide according to weather.com is for 11 degrees and rain on the first day, with the sun threatening to creep through only on Sunday.

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Read more on Ireland v Pakistan:

Niall O’Brien full of belief as Ireland make long-awaited Test debut against Pakitsan

Joyce, Rankin and Balbirnie: Three players key to Ireland's progress in Test cricket

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

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The conditions

Given that international cricketers generally chase the sun, the Test could provide quite the shock for the touring side.

When Pakistan last started a Test series, against Sri Lanka in 2017, it was in September when the heat of the UAE summer was severe.

It was over 40 degrees at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, and the players and umpires were the only people at the ground who were not sat in shade.

The Baltic conditions could help bridge the experience gap between the sides. A green top and cold weather may play into Mohammed Amir’s hands, but it could also help neuter the threat of Shadab Khan, who might do well to ward off frostbite in his spinning fingers.

Shadab Khan of Pakistan catches the ball after taking six wickets during the tour match between Northamptonshire and Pakistan at The County Ground on May 4, 2018. David Rogers / Getty Images
Shadab Khan of Pakistan catches the ball after taking six wickets during the tour match between Northamptonshire and Pakistan at The County Ground on May 4, 2018. David Rogers / Getty Images

The stats

It is well known and understandable that sides starting out in Test cricket struggle to notch wins.

Generally, they are only supported by an immature domestic first-class game. The players struggle to adjust to the rhythm of five-day cricket. And they are playing catch up on their opposition.

In a different age, New Zealand took 44 matches and 26 years to win a Test match for the first time.

The closest sample in the modern era is Bangladesh. They took 35 matches and four years to taste victory for the first time.

And yet despite the prevailing wisdom, Ireland might be fairly well set to compete straight away, with a squad full of experience of both international at first-class experience.

If they do manage the unlikely and beat Pakistan, they would be just the second out of 11 sides to win their first Test. Australia won the first one that played, against England in 1877.

How to watch Ireland v Pakistan in UAE

When: The one-off Test starts on Friday, May 11
What time: Each day’s play is scheduled to start at 2pm UAE time.
TV: The match will be broadcast on OSN Sports Cricket HD. Subscribers to the channel can also stream the action live on OSN Play.

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