IRELAND VS PAKISTAN
Cricbuzz Staff •
Imam-ul-Haq stood out in the 160-run chase with a half-century on debut © Getty
A Test match which may not have showcased the best of hard skills, held its excitement on sheer grit and fighting displays under high pressure. Pakistan, a team which came in with all to lose, found themselves in a situation where they had their backs against the wall on the morning of Day 5; much like Ireland, a team with everything to gain, had found themselves less than 24 hours ago. Eventually, Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq, two unlikely heroes – one whose persistence in the Test side was questioned as much as the latter’s selection was accused on the grounds of nepotism – emerged and saved Pakistan the blushes, taking them over the line with five wickets to spare in the penultimate session of the final day in Malahide.
Ireland may have come in with a combined experience of one Test, up against a side, which was ranked No 1 in the world not too far long back, and may have been playing the chase for most parts of the game, but the fortunes swung time and again – with both teams emerging on top in five and a half sessions each. Within the big script of the Test, lied several sub-plots, records were bound to tumble and they did, with statisticians having a busy four days. Above everything else, however, was the possibility of Ireland threatening to beat Pakistan after conceding an innings lead in their debut Test.
Resuming the final day on 319 for 7, Tyron Kane added two runs early to bring up the 50-run stand for the eighth wicket before his partner – Kevin O’Brien, who had brought Ireland back into the contest with a historic century, fell off his first ball of the day, chasing an away going delivery and giving an easy catch to the slip fielder. Mohammad Abbas wrapped up Ireland’s innings with two more wickets, inducing inside edges on to the stumps off Boyd Rankin and Kane’s bat to end the hosts’ second innings on 339.
Dark clouds were hovering above and predictions of scattered showers were on, but if weather permitted, 160 was expected to be an easy chase. Pakistan may have struggled on several occasions in the recent past to chase down low totals, but the odds were still in favour of the visitors. But less than half an hour into their innings, they were found reeling at 14 for 3. Azhar Ali was forced to play at an away going delivery by Murtagh and edged it to Paul Stirling at slips; Haris Sohail poked at a delivery angling away and Ed Joyce took a good low catch; and Murtagh produced another work of magic to castle Asad Shafiq.
The new ball pair of Murtagh and Rankin had done the early damage, but almost as generously, they were drifting on to the batsmen’s pads. Babar struggled to get going initially but Imam picked the runs quickly through a series of clips. Ireland skipper William Porterfield persisted with Murtagh for long as the other pacers – Rankin and Stuart Thompson – weren’t probing the batsmen enough. All the tourists needed was one handy partnership and they found that in their fourth wicket pair. Without having to take any undue risks, they structured a handy century stand. It helped that even as the ball kept low time and again, the bowling lacked venom as Pakistan’s chase progressed. But just as the target was nearing, a couple of wickets added to the drama.
Against the run of play, confusion over a single paved way for Babar’s run out. However, by then, Pakistan were left needing only 20 runs to win. 12 runs later, Sarfraz Ahmed was adjudged LBW. With Ireland not making the chase any easier, it was a fight for Pakistan all along, a fight they deservingly won.
Ireland fought their way till the end too, and despite the defeat, it wasn’t all in vain. They put on an entertaining display of cricket and justified their elevation to the highest level. It’s unfortunate that it was to be only a one-off Test. Could they have come back stronger in the next few games had there been a longer series? We will never know. And with their next Test still a long way off, it will be a case of what could have been. Five days down, in Malahide, Pakistan won the game, Ireland won the hearts, and Cricket… smiled!
Brief scores: Pakistan 310/9 decl. (Faheem Ashraf 83, Asad Shafiq 62; Tim Murtagh 4-45, Stuart Thompson 3-62) & 160/5 (Imam-ul-Haq 74*, Babar Azam 59; Tim Murtagh 2-55) beat Ireland 130 (Kevin O’Brien 40; Mohammad Abbas 3-44, Shadab Khan 3-31) & 339 f/o (Kevin O’Brien 118, Stuart Thompson 53; Mohammad Abbas 5-66, Mohammad Amir 3-63) by 5 wickets.