DUBLIN – Two years ago today Irish sporting history was made with the bowling the first ball in Test cricket for the Ireland Men’s team. The O’Brien brothers, Kevin and Niall, remember fondly those four days of cricket that delivered a rollercoaster of a Test match against a tough Pakistan side.
The Test match, Ireland Men’s debut in this format of the game, was scheduled to begin on 11 May 2018, however, heavy rainfall that day saw match officials abandon the first day of the Test without a ball bowled. The teams returned to Malahide Cricket Club the next morning and were met by cool conditions, but dry and sunny.
Pakistan batted first and scored a solid first innings total of 310-9 declared, before dismissing the Irish side for a miserly 130. The follow-on was enforced and the home side fought back with 339 to set Pakistan 160 in the fourth innings. Early wickets gave Ireland an outside hope of a dramatic debut win on the last day, but eventually the visitors prevailed by 5 wickets.
Kevin O’Brien, Ireland’s most capped cricketer and Malahide Test centurion, spoke about the debut match:
“Like most people there making their Test debut, it was a feeling of pride, mixed in with nervous energy – even a bit of relief. What every player had put in before, all the years training to finally become a Test cricketer – it’s such an amazing thing to achieve. To call yourself a Test cricketer is a dream come true.”
He then reflected on his Test century in the second innings:
“I was definitely nervous in the nineties, of course, it’s not every day you get a chance to score a Test hundred. But I think the circumstances of the game probably took my mind off the thoughts of scoring a century. At that stage I was just looking to score more runs for the team and build a lead to get us into a position to win the game.”
“Certainly through the nineties, mentally I was absolutely gone – and physically as well. I’d never batted for five hours before and it was something new to me. I just kept taking deep breaths and trying to relax myself, to control my thoughts and focus on getting every single to make it through to three figures.”
“The shot to bring up the hundred wasn’t my most fluent, but probably the most important. Once I saw it went into the gap I knew I was there. There was a huge feeling of relief, excitement, and pride again. It was just emotional – to be the first Test centurion for your country. I remember Tyrone [Kane] was shouting at me to come back for three, but as I ran past him for the second I just said ‘calm down mate, two will do’, and just jogged the second run and lapped up the applause from the crowd and soaked it all in. It took a couple of minutes to look around and get my concentration back for the next ball, and to focus on trying to be there at the end of the day’s play.”
Older brother Niall O’Brien, the record-holding Irish wicketkeeper who retired in late 2018, reflected on the moment he received his cap:
“Whitey [Andrew White] and I are very good friends and have been for a very long time, having been teammates since underage cricket – we were even roommates at the Academy in Port Elizabeth back in 2002 – so for him to give me my first Test cap was an emotional moment. I’d waited a very, very long time to get that cap and to do so in front on my friends and family in my home town of Dublin, it was an amazing moment.”
He then mused about the first ball of the Test match. After Tim Murtagh ran in to deliver the first ball with a sense of almost tangible anticipation in the crowd, what followed did not disappoint. The Pakistan striker, Azhar Ali, played the ball at his feet and called his partner Imam-ul-Haq through for a quick single. Ul-Haq scrambled to make his ground and ended up being sandwiched between O’Brien and fielder Tyrone Kane:
“That first ball, it was a bit ridiculous, wasn’t it – comical in hindsight, but it won’t be forgotten. I was going for the run out – I envisaged kicking the ball into the stumps and running out the batsman – but it didn’t quite go as I planned. With all that happened, and by the time the batter recovered, I think it ended up being the longest first over in Test match history – very amusing.”
Being asked to present debut caps is an honour for any cricketer, but for Andrew White – Chair of National Men’s Selectors and former Irish international with 232 appearances for Ireland – it was possibly the most significant cricket experience of his life:
“It was an absolute honour to be asked to present the players their Test caps – it’s a moment that I’ll always remember and cherish. It was a hugely significant moment for the players, their families and for Cricket Ireland – and to be honest, it was a moment that left me with goosebumps as well.”
“It was evident the players were trying to take in the moment, and for some they were just keen to get the game underway given the magnitude of the occasion. But there was a definite sense of pride and camaraderie amongst the group, including the coaching staff and support staff at that moment.”
“I think the senior players like William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Tim Murtagh, the O’Brien brothers, Gary Wilson and Paul Stirling – they all had the widest of smiles and the odd watery eye. I remember there was an extra loud ripple of applause for Ed Joyce – this was his swansong and everyone knew that there was no player more deserving of being a Test match player than Ed was.”
“For the younger generation they were living the dream as well, and I think our performance over the four days was generally one to be very proud of, and with the occasion you get the sense that there was a young boy somewhere around Ireland was watching and saying to himself that he too wanted to become a Test match player, and that was what made the whole thing very special.”