Emo­tional scenes as Ire­land’s long wait ends

Blis­ter­ing start fol­lows tear-filled cer­e­mony to mark his­toric first day of Test cricket

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - CRICKET / FORMULA ONE - GER SIG­GINS

THE new cap cer­e­mony is al­ways a proud mo­ment as a young man or woman is wel­comed into the elite cir­cle. Yes­ter­day in Malahide it was a bit dif­fer­ent, as there were 11 play­ers lined up to col­lect their two caps — one for wear­ing on the field and a golden, be­tassled one for the man­tel­piece.

Maybe it would have been bet­ter to have con­ducted the cer­e­mony on Fri­day, where the driz­zle might have dis­guised the tears of the play­ers over­come by emo­tion. A few wore sun­glasses; An­drew Bal­birnie and Gary Wil­son openly wiped their eyes.

For­mer play­ers found their eyes fill­ing too, as did some of those older fol­low­ers who re­mem­bered the hard times play­ing and watch­ing a game that was for too long ban­ished to the mar­gins of Irish sport­ing so­ci­ety.

It was a joy­ful mo­ment too. Ed Joyce was the first player to emerge from Ire­land and make a pro­fes­sional ca­reer in the sport, lay­ing the path for dozens of oth­ers. He had also sac­ri­ficed a decade with Ire­land to try to be­come a Test crick­eter with Eng­land. Now, clos­ing fast on 40, he was the third man up to col­lect his caps from chair­man of se­lec­tors An­drew White. He grinned over at his proud fam­ily and made faces at his sons Gior­giou and Se­bas­tian.

Joyce had to wait a long time for that mo­ment — and Irish cricket 141 years — so an ex­tra 24 hours wasn’t go­ing to make much dif­fer­ence.

That myth­i­cal ‘luck’ that for­eign­ers at­tach to us as a na­tional char­ac­ter­is­tic was cer­tainly not in ev­i­dence on Fri­day as the rains rolled in to spoil the party. But some of it re­turned at 10.30am when Wil­liam Porter­field called cor­rectly to win the toss.

He was quick to in­vite Sar­fraz Ahmed to bat, reck­on­ing his hand stacked with five seam bowlers would rel­ish the chance to ex­tract any move­ment to be had from a sur­face that suf­fered a se­ri­ous soak­ing this soggy spring.

Un­like sta­dia, with their tightly-packed grand­stands, cricket fields just don’t suit an­them cer­e­monies, but the lo­cal Pak­istani com­mu­nity did their best to belt out the Qaumi Taranah with its call to the ci­tadel of faith to ‘stay glad’.

Ire­land’s Call isn’t an an­them of course, so although there were half-adozen pints al­ready be­ing sunk in Block B, the crowd par­tic­i­pa­tion level never got up beyond the odd bel­lowed ‘Ire­land’ in the cho­rus.

To be fair, Boyd Rankin has been for­ever stand­ing tall, ever since 2004 and he was first capped as a 19-year-old. At 6ft 8ins his height has helped him be­come one of Ire­land’s few world-class per­form­ers and he, too, de­toured to the Three Lions for a time in pur­suit of the Test dream.

To him fell the hon­our of tak­ing Ire­land’s first Test wicket, his pace find­ing the splice of Azhar Ali’s bat, send­ing the ball loop­ing into the hands of Porter­field.

It was a great mo­ment for the 33-yearold, who plans to re­turn to his home to farm in Co Derry when his pro­fes­sional ca­reer is over. His pre­vi­ous Test ex­pe­ri­ence had been for­get­table, a mix­ture of ill­ness and de­bil­i­tat­ing nerves caus­ing him to bowl poorly and even forc­ing him from the field at the Syd­ney Cricket Ground.

The only thing he emerged with from that game was one ex­pen­sive scalp, of Peter Sid­dle, which al­lows him to claim the dis­tinc­tion as only the sixth man to take a wicket for two coun­tries in Tests. The first four all played for Eng­land and Aus­tralia in the 19th cen­tury, while the fifth was an Egyp­tian called Athanious John Traicos who turned out for South Africa be­fore sport­ing iso­la­tion and played for Zim­babwe more than 20 years later.

The very next ball, bowled by Tim Murtagh, straight­ened and thumped into the pads of Imam ul-Haq, con­vinc­ing the um­pire to give him out lbw. And had Stuart Thomp­son’s shy at the stumps hit there would have been what schoolkids call a ‘team hat-trick’ and Pak­istan would have been in dis­ar­ray.

But he missed, and there was a pe­riod of re­cov­ery un­til lunch.

The vis­i­tors did their best to keep the Irish field­ers on their toes with some harem-scarem sin­gles, but es­caped with­out dam­age to the score­card. That couldn’t be said about the play­ers though, as Ire­land’s very first ball of the day caused debu­tant ul-Haq some se­ri­ous pain. He was rac­ing to­wards the wick­et­keeper when Ty­rone Kane came charg­ing in to kick the ball at the stumps. Niall O’Brien ar­rived at the same time and ul-Haq’s head smashed into the ’keeper’s hip.

The young­ster lay on the ground for some min­utes and went through a con­cus­sion pro­to­col be­fore re­sum­ing.

The glo­ri­ous weather en­cour­aged cus­tom in the beer tent and the crowd be­came no­tice­ably louder as the af­ter­noon wore on. Ire­land’s bowl­ing quin­tet gave them plenty to shout about, with Murtagh, Rankin and Thomp­son equally shar­ing the first six wick­ets to fall.

Spec­ta­tors came from far and wide to en­joy the his­toric mo­ment: John McCor­mack from Muck­amore and Pat Bracken from Thurles sat along­side Frank Lynch from Lim­er­ick and Mark Fa­gan of Ash­bourne, all long-serv­ing sup­port­ers of the world’s new­est Test team.

There was plenty of sup­port for the crick­eters’ char­ity, the Lord’s Tav­ern­ers, which helps chil­dren with spe­cial needs achieve their sport­ing goals. Vol­un­teers Ken Bren­nan and Philip Fur­long were de­lighted with spec­ta­tors’ gen­eros­ity, which in­creased as the day wore on.

An­thony Mor­ris­sey of the Civil Ser­vice club was there too, en­joy­ing a stroll around meet­ing peo­ple he’d played with and against in his play­ing days. “Cricket is a gre­gar­i­ous sport,” he grinned, “it’s all about en­joy­ing other peo­ple’s com­pany.”

Mer­rion youth play­ers Conor Austin, Sean Stan­ton and Sean Hussey came to cheer on their club-mates Joyce and Kane. They all help out with coach­ing in the Balls­bridge club every Sun­day morn­ing, where Joyce takes charge of the un­der 9s.

“When Ed talks, they all lis­ten — it’s amaz­ing,” said Stan­ton.

Ed won’t be down this morn­ing, though. He’s got a Test match to win.

Joyce was the first Ir­ish­man to make a ca­reer in cricket, lay­ing the path for dozens of oth­ers

Ty­rone Kane bowl­ing against Pak­istan at Malahide yes­ter­day. Photo: Seb Daly

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