It’s been two years since the ICC’s landmark decision to grant full test status to Ireland. In the intervening time, there have been few opportunities for the world’s newest test team to show what it is made of. The first ever test against Pakistan last year and the subsequent match up against fellow newcomers Afghanistan were both stymied by low first innings scores, meaning it was always a battle for survival and respectability, rather than any sort of chance to take control.
Next week, the team will get a third opportunity. English cricket is on top of the world thanks to the recent ODI heroics, but could this be an opportunity for Ireland to catch the world cup winners napping when they return to red ball cricket? Ask the bookmakers or check out the online odds and you will see that England are the favourites by a country mile, at around 1/11 on. But Ireland has a nucleus of players who are capable of pulling off a surprise win. Here are three of the men who could be instrumental in making it happen.
Ireland’s answer to Andrew Flintoff, the big all-rounder has made a career of proving his critics wrong. Having orchestrated Ireland’s most memorable one-day win, in the 2011 World Cup, he proved he was a match for anyone with the white ball. Of course, the doubters were back out in force when Ireland joined the test arena, saying he had neither the technique nor the patience. Yet it was O’Brien who scooped the Man of the Match in the first test. He top scored with 40 in the first innings, and added a composed century in the second. O’Brien added another 50 in the second test, and Ireland will rely on the 35 year old for some time yet to add solidity and resistance to the lower middle order.
Ireland will be looking longingly at England’s James Anderson. How they would love to have a seamer around whom they could build an attack. The addition of Mark Adair to the squad for the one off test has not come a moment too soon. The 23 year old has looked like the real deal from a young age. He made his first class debut for Warwickshire while still in his teens and claimed none other than Marcus Trescothick as his first victim. He’s definitely one for the future, and that’s where this team needs to be looking.
Youth and experience are always the key for any test team, and while Adair represents the former, his opening bowling partner Boyd Rankin is a man who has been there and done it in his brief England test career. At 35, Rankin might not be the fearsome prospect that he was when he played his solitary test for England, but in claiming the wickets of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq in Ireland’s first ever test, he proved he is still a force to be reckoned with. And how he would love to rip through the top order of the team that cast him aside!