Nowhere to hide in search­ing test of mind and body

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - CRICKET - GER SIGGINS

MICHAEL ATHER­TON cap­tained Eng­land through one of their low­est pe­ri­ods, but was widely ad­mired for his steely de­ter­mi­na­tion as a bats­man. He also was at the cen­tre of one of the most grip­ping pas­sages of play ever seen. In Not­ting­ham in 1998, in a rear­guard ac­tion against the fastest bowler in the world, South Africa’s Al­lan Don­ald, Ather­ton was given ‘not out’ when he gloved the ball to the keeper.

He de­scribed his re­ac­tions in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Open­ing Up: “Don­ald can’t be­lieve his mis­for­tune and he stands in the mid­dle of the pitch glow­er­ing at me, and scream­ing: ‘You f ***** g cheat!’

“Don’t take a back­ward step here, body lan­guage is im­por­tant. Keep star­ing at him, he’s got to turn away first. The mo­ment passes although there’s plenty of abuse fly­ing from be­hind the stumps. Stay calm now, got to stay com­posed; there will be plenty of short stuff com­ing and plenty of abuse too. Don’t re­act. Stay in your own bub­ble, this is why they call it Test cricket.”

One of cricket’s many quirks is that it comes in sev­eral for­mats — 20- and 50-over games pack in the crowds and TV au­di­ences but ask any player to name his favourite and he’ll al­most cer­tainly an­swer ‘Test’.

The la­bel is no co­in­ci­dence. It’s long, can be gru­elling and tests the mind and body over five, six, even ten days. Un­like lim­ited-overs games, there are few re­stric­tions on bowlers and pa­tience can be a price­less virtue for bats­men who may go half-an-hour or longer with­out scor­ing a run.

Spec­ta­tors can­not ex­pect a rush of sixes or an ex­cit­ing fin­ish, but they will see a game in­tensely fought. There’s nowhere to hide in Tests, and ev­ery sin­gle player will find his tech­nique and men­tal strength put un­der pres­sure and scru­tiny over the five days. And at the end, al­most al­ways, the best team wins.

Pak­istan have brought a young side — five un­capped play­ers, of whom four are bats­men — but se­nior play­ers Azhar Ali, Sar­fraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq are hard­ened Test crick­eters. There will also be much in­ter­est in Mohammed Amir, the bril­liant quick bowler whose ca­reer was blighted with a five-year ban for his in­volve­ment in a match-fix­ing scan­dal.

The dis­mal weather of the last month means both sides will be un­der­cooked, although An­drew Bal­birnie and Niall O’Brien have both made cen­turies in the past week.

Ire­land will cer­tainly score over the vis­i­tors on ex­pe­ri­ence — six of the 14man squad will be over 34 by sum­mer’s end — and there has been plenty of talk that Test cricket has ar­rived too late for the golden gen­er­a­tion. The prospect of play­ing the ul­ti­mate for­mat has driven on the likes of Ed Joyce when his body was scream­ing at him to re­tire, but no-one will be­grudge him a glo­ri­ous farewell.

He will make another slice of his­tory by join­ing his younger sis­ter Iso­bel, who played a Test 18 years ago. They be­come only the sec­ond sis­ter-brother pair to do so, af­ter Aus­tralians Terry Al­der­man and Denise Emer­son in the 1980s.

Af­ter the fail­ure to qual­ify for the World Cup it is ap­par­ent coach Gra­ham Ford has some re­build­ing to do, and although next week­end’s Test is an op­por­tu­nity for some of those who brought Ire­land here to bow out at the pin­na­cle, Ford is al­ready look­ing to the fu­ture.

His first squad was greeted with in­credulity, with one pick from out­side the 27 play­ers con­tracted to Ire­land. Ty­rone Kane had a good win­ter in Aus­tralia but ap­pears to have been picked for his 2-96 in the in­ter­pro and dis­miss­ing Wil­liam Porter­field and Joyce twice in the trial.

The 14 smacks of old-style Big Five se­lec­tion — leav­ing aside Niall O’Brien and Tim Murtagh there are four from each union, a poor re­flec­tion on the in­ter­pros where Le­in­ster have been un­chal­lenged for years. The new se­lec­tion set-up al­lows one vote for each provin­cial coach, plus the chair­man, ex-Ire­land all-rounder An­drew White of In­sto­ni­ans.

Sadly, it ap­pears provin­cial­ism has reared its head with all the toss-up calls go­ing against Le­in­ster play­ers Peter Chase, Barry McCarthy, Ge­orge Dock­rell, Simi Singh and Jack Tec­tor, while the NCU dou­ble vote has al­lowed In­sto­ni­ans James Shan­non and Nathan Smith to slip in.

So Ir­ish sup­port­ers may need to have their ex­pec­ta­tions man­aged. Here’s a few stats show­ing how new teams cope with Test cricket: South Africa lost their first eight Tests, while In­dia didn’t win one un­til their 24th. New Zealand didn’t win any of their first 44 Tests, wait­ing 26 years for that elu­sive vic­tory. And the most re­cently-el­e­vated side, Bangladesh, drew three and lost 28 be­fore they won one.

Which means talk of a fa­mous Mir­a­cle at Malahide needs to be ban­ished. It will be a great oc­ca­sion, but vic­tory will not be part of the mem­o­ries. The weather may be needed to help, but a draw would be a mag­nif­i­cent re­sult, as would a re­spectable de­feat.

Tests can run away from you though — since last sum­mer three have been won by mar­gins of an in­nings and more than 200 runs, West Indies, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on the wrong end of thump­ings. Even the giants get ham­mered too — Eng­land (by 352 runs) and Aus­tralia (495) were both taken apart by South Africa in the past year.

If, af­ter those five long days, Ire­land have suf­fered a sim­i­lar pound­ing, the play­ers will be de­spon­dent, but they will move on.

Half the team were in the Caribbean in 2007 when Ire­land first woke up the world to their po­ten­tial and be­gan con­vinc­ing of­fi­cial­dom at home and abroad that they should be given this chance. The 11 men in white can take heart from the fact that it was their own ef­forts that earned Ire­land the chance to be there, join­ing just 2,913 other men since 1877 who can be called Test crick­eters.

Ed Joyce

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.