by Gerard Mulreaney
When I arrived at Malahide Cricket Club on Day 4 of Ireland’s historic first Test match against Pakistan, I did so more in hope than expectation. With both opening batsman Ed Joyce and William Porterfield still at the crease following an overnight first-wicket stand of 64, the hope was Ireland could bat out the day and keep the Test match alive heading into the final day.
However, that hope was very quickly dashed, as Joyce was needlessly run-out. His replacement Andrew Balbirnie was sent back to the pavilion after facing just five balls, bowled lbw by Abbas, his fourth lbw of the match!
Muhammad Amir then smashed the stumps to take care of Niall O’Brien, and moments later captain William Porterfield followed, as he edged Amir’s effort to the keeper Sarfraz Ahmed.
Ireland were on 95/4 at that stage it was looking doubtful that this Test match would last the day.
What transpired after that can only be described as awe-inspiring. Kevin O’Brien and Paul Stirling, not overly know for patience at the crease, a big requirement in Test cricket, settled Ireland down. They were solid for about an hour before Stirling was caught lbw, again by Abbas.
At this stage O’Brien had comfortably settled into the innings, and was joined by Gary Wilson. Wilson had batted through the pain in the first innings, hitting 33 not out, so supporters were feeling a little more confident. Unfortunately he fell to Amir, who claimed his 100th career Test wicket, for 12 and it looked all over for Ireland.
Stuart Thompson then came in at number 8, and he and O’Brien joined forces and put on a masterclass. They formed a wonderful partnership of 114 to give Ireland a 91 run lead, before Thompson fell to leg-spinner Shadab Khan.
Tyrone Kane followed Thomson and he batted bravely, facing 67 balls for just 8 runs as he helped O’Brien to reach a century in his first Test match.
On 99 a nick off the pads scored four, but they were given as leg-byes, so O’Brien would have to wait a little longer. “Once the leg bye, I knew it hit my leg, and the crowd were going mad and as I was running past Tyrone (Kane) going bloody leg-byes!, laughed O’Brien later.
An edge from Pakistan’s top bowler Muhammad Amir gave O’Brien the two runs he needed to become the 105th batsman to score a century in his Test debut.
The crowd at Malahide stood to acclaim this cricketing hero, along with the Irish squad including his brother Niall, but then he went straight back to work as Ireland had a match to win. He continued batting to reach 118 at the close. A lead of 139 for the hosts heading into the final day.
O’Brien came in with Ireland facing the prospect of an innings defeat. However, he’s now just given them thoughts of an outrageous victory and justified their Test status in the process.
When I caught up with him after the days play O’Brien while delighted with his innings was still fully focused on what they need to do tomorrow, “It was a very proud and emotional moment, it’s a great honour. Hopefully now we’ve put ourselves in a good position to go on and try and win it. There’s no reason why we can’t. We’ve just got to start off well tomorrow and get as many runs as we can. If we get a crack at them (with a bowl), then try and get a couple down early we’ll see how we go.”
“I felt very comfortable in the first innings and played a rash shot on 40. I wanted to make sure I didn’t do something similar today. It’s very pleasing to bat for four or five hours and it puts us in a good position to go into tomorrow.”
It’s bean an amazing 24 hours for O’Brien as at the end of play on Day 3 he was presented with a special framed commemorative cap, as he became the first sportsperson from Ireland to appear in 300 matches for their country. And to say he followed that up in style would be an understatement!
Speaking about his big moment as he became Ireland’s first Test centurion O’Brien said, “But yeah, they then go and bring on their strike bowler Muhammad Amir. I was hoping for one more over from Shadab, as I was fairly comfortable against him. They sniffed an opportunity to get me out on 99 but fortunately another thick edge went past the fielder and I got two runs.”
“It’s a great honour to join a fairly small list of players who have done it (score a century on Test debut). It’s nice to be on the imaginary honours board here in these port-a-cabin changing rooms (laughing), hopefully when Abbotttstown is built I can get my name on the honours board there.”
While those supporters present in Malahide were thrilled for him, the support of his family all through his career is very special for him and they were all there to bare witness to his phenomenal achievement.
“Mum and Dad don’t miss a game. My wife was here as well and obviously Niall is in the side as well, said O’Brien.
“So very proud, I just got about 85 WhatsApps from the family group so it will take me a couple of hours to read through them. Any time Mum and Dad watch, and my wife’s there, whether I succeed or fail its good to have support from the family and friends.”
On tomorrow, as Ireland look to score some more runs to give themselves a chance of victory O’Brien said, “If we can keep adding to the lead and get up to around 180-odd, it gives us a great chance of hopefully getting a draw but if we can nip out a couple early and get a few to stay low, as they did, then we have a great chance.”
The eighth wicket stand with Stuart Thompson was the standout partnership in the match for Ireland and O’Brien was quick to heap praise on both him and bowler Tyrone Kane, “Thommo batted unbelievably well. He’s a highly talented player. Hopefully now it’s the start of a very successful career for him with bat and ball. He was fantastic after tea, he took the pressure off me. Tyrone came in, and he’s more of a dasher who likes to score quickly but he reined it in to bat out for over an hour and a half. That was a tremendous effort from him.”
Picture Credits: Cricket Ireland