Three reasons why Ireland were competitive in their inaugural Test against Pakistan

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Ireland showed great fight before succumbing to a five-wicket defeat to Pakistan in their inaugural Test in Dublin.

Ireland were forced to follow on after being bowled out for 130 but a fine century from Kevin O’Brien revived their hopes. Their seamers picked up three early wickets as Pakistan chased a tricky target of 160. But in the end, fifties from Pakistan debutant Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam did the job for the visitors.

Ireland gave a good account of themselves in Malahide. However, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that they were up to the challenge in the Dublin match.

Here are three reasons why Ireland were competitive in their inaugural Test.

FIRST-CLASS EXPERIENCE

While it was Ireland’s maiden Test, their players have played enough first-class cricket. In fact, the combined first-class experience of their team, which amounts to 1103 matches, is substantially more than that of Pakistan – 799 matches.

Granted, Pakistan picked a predominantly limited overs teams as they want to prepare players for next year’s 50-over World Cup. However, that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Ireland players know the ins and outs of multiple day cricket.

Also, a majority of Irish cricketers play county cricket, with someone like Boyd Rankin having played Tests for the Englishmen. So the chances of them being embarrassed was remote.

CHALLENGING WICKET

A wicket with a tinge of green meant Pakistan’s batsmen were never going to be at ease. It has been a long time since Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan retired but Pakistan haven’t been tested extensively in the longest format since the twin retirements in May 2017.

Medium pace bowlers moving the ball around all day on a wicket tailormade for them can be challenging for most batsmen. More so for Pakistan’s line-up that lacked Test experience.

BEEN THERE DONE THAT

Ireland know how to perform at the highest level. Their performances at World Cups have left a mark on the minds of cricket fans. They famously knocked Pakistan out of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean before pulling off a remarkable chase of 328 against England at the 2011 showpiece event in India.

Seven out of 11 members of that 2011 World Cup game winning team played the inaugural Test against Pakistan. And while the format and conditions were completely different, Ireland did have players who knew what it takes to deliver at the toughest stage.

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Babar Azam made the most of his reprieve on the final day.

Despite giving a great account of themselves, Ireland’s maiden Test ended in defeat as Pakistan clinched a five-wicket victory on the final day at Malahide in Dublin.

Resuming Day Five on their overnight score of 319-7, Ireland added 20 more runs to their total in the second-innings before being bowled out. Ireland’s first-ever Test centurion Kevin O’Brien was dismissed off the very first ball he faced on Tuesday for a well made 118.

Set a target of 160 to win in the final innings, Pakistan overcame early jitters to claim a comfortable victory in the end.

Here, we look at the key talking points from the clash.

IRELAND’S BOWLERS GIVE ROARING START

Given Pakistan’s propensity to collapse on the final day of a Test, the Irish had their tails up as they set the visitors a tricky target of 160. Soon, the home fans at Malahide were celebrating as Ireland’s pacers tore through Pakistan’s top-order.

Medium-pacer Tim Murtagh gave the hosts the perfect start in the second innings as he had Azhar Ali edging to Paul Stirling at first-slip in the very first over of Pakistan’s chase. Three overs later, when Haris Sohail was caught by Ed Joyce at gully off the bowling of Boyd Rankin, the Irish camp was buzzing.

Just six deliveries later, the fans went wild as Murtagh castled Asad Shaif with a lovely in-swinger to reduce Pakistan to 14-3.

Murtagh gave Ireland a flying start with the ball on the final day.

Murtagh gave Ireland a flying start with the ball on the final day.

AZAM MAKES MOST OF REPRIEVE

Despite his undeniable ODI credentials, Babar Azam’s Test career so far has left a lot to be desired. After Ireland’s roaring start with the ball on the final day, Azam got together with Imam-ul-Haq to take the visitors to 52-3 at lunch.

Things could have gone awry for Azam shortly after lunch though as Murtagh found the outside edge off his bat with a gentle out-swinger. Unfortunately for Ireland, Andy Balbirnie failed to grab on to a relatively simple catch at third-slip to give Pakistan a huge reprieve. That proved to be the game ultimately as Azam went on to notch up only his fifth Test half-century in 24 innings while forming a match-winning partnership with Imam-ul-Haq.

The 23-year-old was the fourth Pakistan wicket to fall in the end after a big-mix up with Imam resulted in a run-out. By then, Azam had scored 59 and ended any hopes of a Ireland victory.

IMAM-UL-HAQ SHINES ON TEST DEBUT

The nephew of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Imam’s introduction to the Pakistan team in the ODI format resulted in a fine century against Sri Lanka on debut last year.  Having been handed his Test debut at Dublin, the left-handed opener’s first innings had been eventful but short-lived.

He made up for it with a composed unbeaten half-century in the second innings to steer Pakistan to victory. Imam lived dangerously at the start as some edges flew through the vacant gully region but he did not lose his composure as the top-order around him collapsed.

His mix-up with Azam which resulted in a run-out had shades of his uncle’s infamous running between the wickets but nevertheless, the opener’s solid showing is a very promising sign for Pakistan cricket.

Imam-ul-Haw made it a debut Test to remember.

Imam-ul-Haq made it a debut Test to remember.

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Buttler has been in scintillating for in IPL. Image: BCCI.

Jos Buttler was rewarded for his stellar performance in the ongoing Indian Premier League with a return to England‘s Test squad at the expense of James Vince.

England’s new national selector Ed Smith announced a 12-man squad on Tuesday to face Pakistan at Lord’s next week, in which there is no place for Vince. There was also a potential debut for Somerset off-spinner Dom Bess.

Vince’s match-saving, unbeaten double-century for Hampshire on the eve of the selection meeting seemed sure to keep him in the frame – but Smith has instead been persuaded by Buttler’s wonderful run of form at the Indian Premier League.

Buttler, who played the last of his previous 18 Tests in December 2016 but is an inked-in white-ball player for his country, will be back as a specialist batsman – with Jonny Bairstow retaining the wicket-keeping gloves.

Twenty-year-old Bess, whose opportunity comes after his Somerset team-mate Jack Leach broke his thumb in the nets on Monday, has made just 16 first-class appearances to date.

England’s new national selector Smith believes it is “the perfect moment” to reintroduce Buttler to Test cricket. Buttler has smashed five fifties in a row in the IPL for Rajasthan Royals.

Smith said: “Jos Buttler is an outstanding talent, who is already a central part of England’s white ball teams. The selection panel feels that this is the perfect moment to reintroduce Jos to Test cricket, where he has already enjoyed some success, including a stint playing as a specialist batsman at number seven.

“Jos is playing with great confidence and flair, and he will bring unique qualities to the Test team.”

England Test squad:

Joe Root (c), James Anderson,  Jonny Bairstow (wk), Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Alastair Cook, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood

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