DUBLIN (Sports Desk) – Ireland will become the first team to debut in Test cricket since Bangladesh in 2000, when they take on Pakistan at Malahide from Friday.
After being awarded full member status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) last June along with Afghanistan, Ireland are just the 11th nation to play men s Test cricket.
Australia remain the only side to have won their inaugural Test — beating England in the first such match, in Melbourne in 1877 – and the Irish will hope to avoid the fate of New Zealand, who took 26 years to win their first Test match.
“It s just what I grew up dreaming about,” said the 33-year-old. When I was growing up playing in the garden I was Jack Russell, Alec Stewart, Ian Healy. The chance to become a Test cricketer myself is a dream come true.
“To be honest with you, I didn t think it would happen in my lifetime. I thought it would probably pass me by but credit goes to the players, the coaches and the administration.
“Warren Deutrom, the CEO, of Cricket Ireland has done a great job – fast-tracking our progress to where we are today.”
Ireland beat Pakistan 11 years ago, knocking them out of the 2007 World Cup, on the back of 72 from Niall O Brien. Four years later his brother Kevin scored a hundred off just 50 balls as Ireland stunned England in the 2011 World Cup.
Both are part of a squad packed with first-class experience but is now shorn of Nathan Smith, who is ruled out after suffering a side strain. Craig Young comes in to the squad as a replacement.
Barry McCarthy sustained a shoulder injury playing for Durham against Leicestershire last week and was not considered as he was sent for scans.
Kevin O Brien says that while the goal is to establish Ireland as a Test force, it s important the team doesn t get carried away early on.
“We need to ease our way into Test cricket. This is a huge game and an historic day but if we were going to play Australia, South Africa and England we d probably get hammered most games if not every game, so we ve got to be realistic about our chances.”
Ireland do have one Test cricketer in their ranks – seamer Boyd Rankin played one Test for England against Australia over four years ago.
“It was great to get that experience,” he said. “It was great to play in front of a packed SCG. I ve played age-group cricket for Ireland since Under-13s all the way right through so it s obviously a special moment for me and my family as well.”
Pakistan s preparations for this Test amount to a weather-ruined draw against Kent and a nine-wicket victory over Northamptonshire, in which Mohammad Abbas and Shadab Khan took four second-innings wickets a piece before Imam-ul-Haq – nephew of Inzamam – struck an unbeaten 59.
Captain Sarfraz Ahmed confirmed on Thursday that Pakistan will field an unchanged side, meaning Imam will make his Test debut in place of Sami Aslam, who opened during Pakistan s drawn Test series in England two years ago.
“It is a privilege to be a part of this historic Test match and all of us are really looking forward to it,” said Sarfraz.
“Ireland players feature prominently in the ICC ODI (one-day internationals) and T20I (Twenty20 internationals) player rankings, and I am confident that in due course they will also make their mark in the Test rankings.”
Pakistan team: Azhar Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed (capt/wkt), Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas, Rahat Ali.
Ireland squad: William Porterfield (C), Andrew Balbirnie, Ed Joyce, Tyrone Kane, Andy McBrine, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O Brien, Niall O Brien, Boyd Rankin, Paul Stirling, James Shannon, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young.