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My memories of Ireland cricket

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Roar Guru
1st August, 2019
2

While the recently concluded historic four-day Test match between England and Ireland ended early on the third morning with the Irish batting collapsing badly, the Irish left the Lord’s with their heads held high.

While quite a bit of work is required on their batting, their medium pacers were impressive. No-one will take Ireland lightly in Test matches anymore, especially on seamer-friendly conditions.

I think this is a good time for me to look back at some of my own memories of Ireland cricket.

Dermott Monteith: the magic of spin
My first introduction to Ireland cricket came via this left-arm spinner when he toured Bangladesh with an MCC team in the 1980-81 season. He was already in his 40s and enjoyed legendary status in Irish cricket history.

The main series started at Chittagong with a three-day match. Unfortunately the infamous Chittagong weather intervened on the second morning to end the match abruptly. It was the second three-day match at Rajshahi that was a keenly contested match, and for the first time on the tour the Irish spinner came to prominence.

On a slow-turning track he ran through the Bangladesh top order on the first morning, restricting them to 5-45, taking all the five wickets. Eventually the local side recovered somewhat to declare at 8-216, but Monteith appeared unplayable, finishing with 7-64. The match eventually ended in a draw. Although the local side made only 132 in the second innings, the tail managed to waste valuable time to ensure their safety.

The third and the final three-day match of the series was at Dhaka, and it was televised live. So, as the Tigers batted first, I had the chance to watch him bowl for the first time. As an aspiring left-arm spinner myself, I keenly witnessed his fascinating battle with the Bangladesh middle order. He took 2-30 from 25 miserly overs as the home side were all out for 143 on the first day. Raqibul Hassan top-scored with 51, but neither he nor anyone in the Bangladesh team looked comfortable against his spin.

I bunked my class at school the next day to go the stadium and watched Mark Nicholas and Richard Hutton smash our hapless bowling as MCC took a huge first-innings lead. A strong batting display by the home side on the third day saved our blushes.

But it was Monteith who had the final say on the tour. In the 40-over match, also at Dhaka, to end the tour his spell of 8-3-19-1 at the middle of Bangladesh’s innings was instrumental in the MCC winning the match by six wickets.

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ICC Trophy 1997: Bangladesh vs Ireland
More than a decade and a half after Monteith’s tour with the MCC team, the official rivalry between Bangladesh and Ireland was established with this second-round Group F fixture of the sixth ICC Trophy. With both teams having won their first group matches, the winner here was virtually guaranteed a place in the semi-finals. The Irish were in an especially favourable position having defeated the Netherlands, one of the favourites in the previous match, albeit with the help of the Duckworth–Lewis–Stern method.

But there was no result in this match due to the weather intervention and the teams had to share the points. At that time I felt that there was no justice in the world of cricket. Despite thoroughly outplaying their opponents, the Tigers were forced to share the points due to the untimely intervention by the weather.

Justin Benson, the Irish captain, decided to bat first, but his batsmen failed miserably against a varied Bangladesh attack and the Irish were all out for a paltry score of 129 in the 50th over. Fast bowler Hasibul Hassan, better known by his nickname Shanto, was superb taking 3-21 from his full quota of ten overs.

With rain looming on the horizon Bangladesh openers Athar Ali Khan and Naimur Rahman were told to get on with it, but they got just six overs before the rain started. The rain stopped late on the day and play resumed around 5:15pm with a revised target of 63 from 20 overs for the Tigers., but soon it became apparent that the outfield was too wet and the fielders were at great risk of injuring themselves, so after just three more deliveries the game was called off with the Tigers at 0-24 from 6.4 overs.

The Irish duly booked the place in the semi-finals after defeating Hong Kong in the next match, but they lost out on World Cup qualification after losing to their arc-rivals Scotland in the third-place play-off match.

The final group match between Bangladesh and the Netherlands became a do-or-die affair for both sides. In another rain-affected match the Tigers recovered from a terrible start – 4-15 at one stage – to record a three-wicket win. Skipper Akram Khan-uncle of Tamim Iqbal led from the front with an unbeaten 68, and of course the Tigers lifted the trophy after defeating Kenya in the final in yet another rain-affected two-day reduced-overs match.

Ireland's veteran Tim Murtagh

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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World Cup 2011: Ireland vs England
I didn’t watch this match live – my dad had passed away just couple of days previously and I was busy with other things – but I watched the highlights and still felt thrilled.

Of course Ireland already enjoyed the reputation of giant killers. In 2007 they defeated Pakistan in a low-scoring match at Kingston, an upset that delighted me. Then in the T20 World Cup of 2009 they defeated Bangladesh by six wickets at Trent Bridge. Obviously I found it far less amusing. The Trent Bridge match is important because I first learnt about the O’Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, in this match.

After wicketkeeper-batsman Niall gave the Irish a target of 138, an early boost with a 25-ball 40, Kevin finished it off in style with 39* from just 17 balls.

And of course it was Kevin who played the match of his life against England. Chasing 328, they at one stage slumped to 5-111 and a heavy defeat looked on the card. But then Kevin smashed 13 fours and six sixes in his knock of 113 from 63 balls, and although he was run out late in the day, the match was already won.

This match has found its place in Ireland’s cricket folklore.

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World Cup qualifier 2018: Ireland vs Afghanistan
This qualifying event to select two teams for the 2019 World Cup really became interesting during the Super Sixers. The West Indies suffered a setback, losing to Afghanistan early during the Sixers; nevertheless, they recovered to book one place for the World Cup.

Hosts Zimbabwe looked the favourites for the other place until they suffered a shock three-run defeat to rank outsiders UAE in a rain-affected match. This made the final Super Sixer match between Ireland and Afghanistan a winner-takes-all affair.

Sadly for the Irish, they failed to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity that came their way. Afghanistan won the match at the Zimbabwe capital by five wickets with five balls to go, but actually it was much more one-sided than that.

All the top order Irish batsmen got starts, but no-one could dominate the Afghanistan spin attack led by Rashid Khan and Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman. Rashid took 3-40, but it was the run out of top-scorer Paul Stirling for 55 that hurt the Irish most.

A target of 210 was never going to be enough, and the result was never in any doubt after Afghan openers Mohammad Shahzad and Gulbadin Naib shared an 86-run opening stand in 16.5 overs. Shahzad’s 50-ball 54 earned him the man of the match award. The Irish spinners bowled well, but they only delayed the inevitable.

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Lord’s Test: England vs Ireland
While the match ended in a disappointing note for the Irish, for the best part of two days the Irish fans plus most of the neutrals thoroughly enjoyed the match as the new boys threatened to humiliate their big brothers at the home of world cricket.

Just ten days after the drama of the World Cup final England were back at Lord’s taking on the Irish in a historic match. Some of the England players were jaded, and it was clear they were not fully focused on their Test duty. Still, it was expected to be a cakewalk for the home team.

I was pretty happy to see the scoreboard reading Ireland 2-107 in the afternoon. I thought there’d been a delayed start on account of some typical English weather, but then in the corner of the screen I saw that Ireland led by 22 runs. England’s batting had collapsed against the gentle medium pace of Tim Murtagh and Mark Adair.

Of course England recovered to win the match by a handsome margin, but the shock created on the first morning was quite amazing.

The British weather played a part in the final outcome. The Irish did lose their grip on the match late on the second day as the English tail-enders used the long handle well. Sam Curran, of Zimbabwean backgorund, was especially impressive, scoring 37 from 29 deliveries.

Still, one feels that if the batting conditions were better on the third morning, the Irish would have produced a better feast. As things were, the conditions were perfect for seam and swing bowling, and the England new-ball bowlers utilised the opportunity perfectly. The inexperienced Ireland batting line-up had no answer ready for the situation.

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