It’s not very often we get to say this, so savour it. Sniff it. Breathe it in. Swirl it around the glass: Test cricket. For Ireland. Lord’s.
But there’s been more these days. Away to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. First Class cricket, who needs it? These days Irish players make their red ball debut in the Test arena. Learn on the job. This playing group would grow exponentially with regular First Class, domestically and with more Ireland A cricket.
Of course it’s not their first rodeo at St John’s Wood. Irish fans will always hold the 2019 edition of this fixture close to their hearts. Even if it all ended with Woakes and Broad-inspired tragedy. Yet Ireland maybe have only themselves to blame for being rolled for 38.
Key differences stand out between that match and this. For one the Irish attack. Timothy James Murtagh kicked things off.
Kicked? He blew the (bloody) doors off the English changing room with 5-13 before lunch on the opening day. Nine overs, two maidens. A desert dry 1.44 per over. The Middlesex veteran probably knows Lord’s so well he could have bowled blindfolded.
Murtagh, Adair, Thompson and Rankin sounds like an accountancy firm. Hard working. Fair. No flair. Dependable. Enough variation to cover any issues with your accounts. They file England back for 85.
Jack Leach would of course save the day with his remarkable 92 opening the batting. And not even his most remarkable batting performance that season (that’s reserved for his 0* in the Headingley Ashes Test a few months later).
Things are slightly different this time. You’ve Mark Adair leading the attack. Then most likely Graham Hume, Fionn Hand or Craig Young, some bustling Curtis Campher overs and the spin of the ever dependable Andy McBrine who also played in the 2019 meeting.
Ireland’s batting line up was considerably stronger then with Kevin O’Brien and Will Portfield in the mix. But Tector, Tucker and even Campher have since made considerable strides. Not to mention Stirling and Balbirnie who have grown into their potential.
This however is a very different England. In 2019 under Trevor Bayliss as coach with Root as captain there was no clear identity. In stark contrast, Eoin Morgan as English white-ball captain had a very clear purpose: the 2019 world cup.
The purpose of this 2023 English Test team? Batter the opposition. Smash bowlers. Seize wickets. Press hard. Entertain. Over the last twelve months this has been abundantly clear under coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes.
How will Ireland counter the explosion of Crawley, Duckett, Brooks, Root, Stokes and Bairstow? How will they wrestle back control? It’s hard to know.
How did New Zealand, India, Pakistan and South Africa counter? The question of how to dismantle “BazBall” still remains internationally unanswered. But one thing was clear during Ireland’s three day tour game against Essex. Pitch aside, quality of the opposition aside, Irish squad members playing for Essex also aside – Ireland went at nearly five an over during their first innings of 419. A sign of things to come? Essex, who were bolstered by four players from the Irish squad (Campher, Dockrell, Adair and Foster) also scored at a fair pelt. Were they briefed by Irish management to mimic England’s approach?
You can’t help but feel Ireland come to this Test well prepared, at least mentally. The game situations, whether roughly scripted, put the touring side through their paces.
Runs for PJ Moor, James McCollum, Lorcan Tucker, Dockrell, Adair, McBrine and of course Paul Stirling who drove down from his Warwickshire Bears T20 Blast game against Leicestershire which began on day one at Chelmsford.
Bowling was a slightly tougher task on such a wicket. Dockrell did however bowl almost 30 overs in the tour game, perhaps enough that England brought in a left arm spin net bowler.
Finally, the matter of Josh Little who in Monday night’s IPL final competed in the biggest game any Irish cricketer has ever played in. Breathe it in. Fans will hope he’s firing and ready to go for the ODI World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
But Cricket Ireland may need to consider the environment that allowed rumour and disquiet to build around Little’s international aspirations. We all desperately want to see Josh Little bursting from his mark red ball in hand.
The Irish men’s team head for their date with destiny at Lord’s against a brick wall of BazNall. What happens next? Based on their Essex prep it certainly seems like coach Heinrich Malan and the leadership team have thought considerably about how to scale it. Now’s their chance.
The side will also play two warm-up matches on 13 and 15 June against Sri Lanka and Ireland, both at Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo.
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