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10 May 2018

Ireland vs Pakistan Test Preview - a match 160 years in the making

On Friday 11 May, when Ireland face Pakistan at Malahide Cricket Club, something that has only happened 10 times previously will occur - a nation will play their first men's Test match (Ireland played a women's Test in 2000, also again Pakistan), some 160 years after the first Irish side took on a touring English side.  Let's take a moment to forget everything else wrong in world cricket (eg. Tampergate, The Hundred, ludicrous 10 team World Cup, etc), and rejoice.  Along with Afghanistan, Ireland have led the way for Associate cricket nations in the last decade, and have finally beaten down the door into cricket's exclusive Full Member club.

The Squads

Ireland

William Porterfield (C), Andy Balbirnie, Ed Joyce, Tyrone Kane, Andy McBrine, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien, Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young.

The tragedy of the timing of their inaugural Test for Ireland is that it has some 5 years too late for many of their 'golden generation'. The team, while full of proven performers at the international level, is ageing. It is likely that seven players from the side that stunned England in the 2011 World Cup will turn out in the Test, including the entire top six (Porterfield, Stirling, Joyce, O'Brien x 2, Wilson). In saying that, they still have one of the best bowlers of the world in green seaming conditions - Tim Murtagh recently took his 700th first class wicket, and has dominated the start of the county season for Middlesex. The Pakistani openers will not be in for an easy time.

Pakistan

Sarfraz Ahmed (C), Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Inam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Amir, Rahat Ali, Saad Ali, Sami Aslam, Shadab Khan, Usman Salahuddin.

The last time Pakistan toured the UK, drawing the four Test series against England 2-2, they were propped up by two giants of Pakistani batting - Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. They have now retired and leave gaping holes in the lineup. Much will rest on the shoulders of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, with Shafiq coming off an excellent unbeaten 186 against Northamptonshire in their second warm-up match. For the bowling, while much of the attention will rightly be on Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali in seaming conditions, teenage leg-spinner Shadab Khan took a stunning 10 wicket match haul against Northamptonshire and will fancy his chances against a Pakistani line up unlikely to have faced a great deal of quality leg spin in the past.

Conditions

The lovely Malahide Cricket Club just to the north of Dublin has been primped and preened to match the historic occasion - unfortunately, the weather forecast is not living up to its end of the deal. Rain is due for much of the first two days and coupled with a lot of moisture in the lead up it is likely that a typical early season pitch will greet the teams - green and on the soft side. Malahide pitches are known to flatten out, however that will depend on how much sun escapes the clouds on Days 3 to 5. A large and parochial Irish crowd is expected - no doubt fueled by a few pints of the local product at the surrounding pubs if rain intervenes! 

Prediction

There is a sense of this all coming full circle - Irish cricket really hit the big time when they beat, and subsequently knocked out, Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup; on St Patrick's Day no less.  Fast forward 11 years and Pakistan again return for a seminal moment for Ireland.

The prediction itself is difficult - on the bowling both sides have pace attacks to exploit the conditions.  In the batting Pakistan are in unfamiliar conditions despite their warm-up matches, however Ireland's batting is their weakest suit. The emotion of the occasion for the Irish players will also be high, and controlling this, especially if batting first, will be vital. Given all that, Pakistan will probably start as favourites to win, with the draw being a high possibility with the weather forecast.

Most of all though, this is a time to celebrate - a historic occasion, a nation with a proud and rich cricketing history finally being allowed access to the biggest stage, a growing of this great sport. Niall O'Brien was quoted that he will have tears behind his sunglasses - it would be no surprise at all if many others in the crowd have exactly the same.

What is your prediction for Ireland's inaugural Test?  Let us know in the comments below!