REVIEW: When you've waited as long as Ireland have to play your first Test match, another day's delay may not seem that significant. Yet there was no denying the disappointment at a wet and windy Malahide ground in Dublin as rain meant play was abandoned without a ball bowled on Friday's opening day of Ireland's inaugural Test, against Pakistan. By the time the umpires bowed to what had long made seem inevitable at 3:00pm local time (1400 GMT), there were just a few hardy souls at a ground where temporary stands had increased the capacity to 6,300, with 5,100 seats pre-sold for the day.
With cruel irony, no sooner had Richard Illingworth and Nigel Llong, the two English umpires, called off Friday's proceedings then the sun broke through the grey skies, although so wet were conditions under foot that any prospect of Test cricket in Dublin on Friday had seemed forlorn from the moment the match failed to start on time at 11:00am (1000 GMT). Yet there was also a sense it would take a lot more than howling wind and rain to dampen the pride felt within Irish cricket as their side stood on the brink of becoming just the 11th nation to play Test cricket.
That this match had captured the attention of an Irish public used to Gaelic sports, racing, rugby and football holding sway, could be seen from the fact that a preview of the match was the main item on Thursday's evening television news bulletin on RTE, Ireland's national state broadcaster. It was all a far cry from the time when Ed Joyce, arguably the country's greatest batsman and set to play in this match, was physically attacked as a boy just for carrying a cricket bat.
Friday's Irish Times proclaimed: "Truly historic sporting occasions don't come around too often but today, for 11 men wearing white sweaters embossed with shamrocks, what unfolds at Malahide will be truly momentous. "I've dreamed of being a Test cricketer for as long as I can remember. I must have dreamt the dream 100,000 times," Ireland wicket-keeper Niall O'Brien wrote in an accompanying column.
Yet while many Irish sports fans are starting to get acquainted with cricket, the sport has deep roots in the "Emerald Isle". There are records of cricket being played in Ireland as early as 1731. But the sport's reputation suffered from being seen as the creation of English "colonisers". Ireland first made the rest of the cricket world sit up and take notice when they skittled out the touring West Indies, reputed to have enjoyed some typically generous Irish hospitality the night before, for just 25 on their way to a win at Sion Mills in 1969. They made an even bigger global splash when they knocked Pakistan out of the 2007 one-day international World Cup tournament with a stunning St Patrick's Day win at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica.
But the joy in defeating Pakistan -- as well as Bangladesh -- in 2007 was eclipsed four years later, when England were beaten in a World Cup match in Bangalore. That success redoubled Irish ambitions to play five-day Test cricket, still regarded as the sport's supreme format. If conditions in Malahide remain cold and overcast they could yet favour Ireland, although neither side will relish batting first under cloudy skies. "We've always got a chance, it's sport," said Ireland captain William Porterfield on Thursday. "Are we favourites? No. But we've as much chance as anyone if we do the basics right, in our own conditions we will give ourselves a very good chance," he added.
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First Published: May 13, 2018, 7:50 AM IST