Ireland men inch their way to history

A short one-off Test against Afghanistan provided pain, joy and major Intercontinental Cup nostalgia vibes.

A historic moment for Ireland as they claimed their first ever Men's Test victory, beating Afghanistan.

At the very end it was equal parts painful and beautiful. Ireland Test captain Andrew Balbirnie was batting like his life depended on it. Throw in technical deficiency, form, age, pressure and one of Ireland’s finest ever batters was almost crab like.

There was nothing loose. Nothing rash, everything circumspect. Even his running became almost crab like. Twos and threes were taken extremely carefully. But that’s what history does. It’s a weight Balbirnie carried around his neck with every prod.

Tucker at the other end was looking slightly more youthful, free even. Before the Test he spoke about finding it hard to go back down again through the gears once set.

They came together at 39/4. Given the situation, history, Balbirnie and Tucker would have to inch to 111 almost crawling on their bellies through the desert.

Ireland had no previous experience chasing in the fourth innings to draw upon. This was only their eighth ever Test match.

There was however one particular experience everyone was drawing upon collectively at the same time. Ireland players, Ireland fans, even Afghanistan’s players: England vs Ireland at Lords, 2019.

After mostly dominating that particular Test the visitors were skittled for 37 cashing 180. That Irish Test team was one of our strongest. Would we ever get an opportunity like that again? A last minute switch from the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi to Tolerance Oval potentially threw up a banana skin. The 122nd venue to ever hold a Test. How would it play?

The venue’s small size actually made the event. It gave retro Intercontinental Cup vibes reminding us all where these two sides came from to get here.

Balbirnie boldly said he knew his XI even with the venue change. Two spinners in McBrine and van Woerkom. Seam and swing from Adair, Young and McCarthy.

Only one Afghanistan wicket out of 20 was taken by spin. Maybe five quicks would have been better? But van Woerkom picked up Zia-ur-Rehman just when an eighth wicket partnership was getting annoying for Ireland.

The debutant spinner looked unthreatening for much of the Test yet did just enough when ultimately needed. But it was through the extraordinary efforts of man of the match Mark Adair that Ireland found themselves in this position. 8/95 swinging it both ways, making full use of the strong desert wind.

With only 111 to chase, Afghanistan’s pacers started to make their presence felt. Masood, Zadran, then spinner Zia-ur-Rehman.

PJ Moor bowled Zadran for zero. Campher bowled Zadran for zero. Tector bowled Masood, caught Gurbaz given on a curious review that itself should be reviewed.

8 for 1. 8 for 2. 13 for 3. Heads were spinning. Lords 2019, it was happening all over again. This was surely destiny.

Four to win. Balbirnie smacks it square through the off side. This was it! Sabina Park, Wankhede Stadium, Hobart, the MCG, Tolerance Oval. Until it wasn’t and a cruelly slow outfield almost robbed the life out of the moment.

They run three. Scores tied.

Tucker gets a leading edge. Scramble through. Quickly quickly.

It took Afghanistan only two Tests to win their first. But it took India 25. Bangladesh 35. New Zealand 45. Balbirnie and Ireland will take their 8. And a possible Test against Zimbabwe in Belfast this August.

For now, the questions were over. There was pain. But now also joy, pride, wonder, history.

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