Ireland’s historic Lord’s Test would have moved even Beckett

First Test meeting with England will be one of the biggest games in Irish cricket history

Ireland’s Boyd Rankin during a training session ahead of the Test match against England at Lord’s. Photo: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

Ireland’s Boyd Rankin during a training session ahead of the Test match against England at Lord’s. Photo: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

 

Four-day Test: England v Ireland

First ball: 11am, Wednesday. Venue: Lord’s, London. On TV: Sky Sports Cricket.

Samuel Beckett loved his trips to Lord’s, even travelling from his home in France just to catch an Ashes Test. On the first day he would stroll to the ground through sunny Regent’s Park, bubbling with enthusiasm at the trees, birdsong and the company of friends.

One remarked: “On a day like this it’s good to be alive,” to which the playwright replied, “Well, I wouldn’t go as far as that.”

Beckett’s famously bleak outlook might have cracked had he been spared to see this day, one even his imagination would have struggled to capture: The first England v Ireland Test match, and at his beloved Lord’s.

It promises to be one of the great days in Irish sports history, no matter what happens on that green field in St John’s Wood.

That it comes on the same ground that England have just won their first World Cup, and under the captaincy of a man who wore the shamrock sweater 63 times, adds spice to a hugely symbolic occasion.

England first played against another nation back in 1877, calling it a Test. Wednesday is their 1,011th, Ireland’s third.

Since the sides began playing each other in one-day games back in 2006, English respect has grown. There was that World Cup win at Bangalore of course, but also several games in various world events and reciprocal visits that were competitive. Recent games have been less so, however, with Ireland’s next generation providing the only positives from the May defeat in Malahide.

Sadly, Josh Little is back home in Dublin watching on TV, but his fellow debutants Mark Adair and Lorcan Tucker are in Graham Ford’s 14-man squad.

Adair will play, his uncomplicated approach to batting and bowling winning him praise and comparisons to Ian Botham.

That’s a heavy burden for a youngster to bear, and one that broke the backs of dozens of English cricketers since the 1990s. He does have the same knack of making things happen, fearlessly going after Jofra Archer at Malahide and taking wickets with bad balls in Bready. His inclusion augurs well and the talk around Lord’s on Tuesday suggested there may be another changing of the guard on Wednesday morning.

Craig Young’s career has had more downs than ups, a long spell at Sussex was punctuated by injury and he returned home without ever making the first XI. He never settled in the Ireland team and it was only this season, when he moved from the north-west to North Down, that he seemed to go up a gear.

He impressed in the A-team games against Scotland and in last week’s warm-up but it would be a surprise if Ford opted for him ahead of Boyd Rankin.

William Porterfield knows his team are underdogs, but insists they are confident.

“It’s an opportunity for us to show what we can do.

“It’s 11 guys versus 11 guys. You take names and reputations out of it and take each delivery as it comes,” he said.

Irish supporters need to temper their expectations, however. No visiting nation has won on its first appearance at Lord’s, and usually received a hammering. Australia, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were all beaten by an innings, India by 158 runs.

The two most recent debutants provide relevant clues as to what could be in store: In neither innings did Bangladesh nor Zimbabwe survive even 40 overs, with totals of 108, 159, 83 and 123. For all the expressed dreams of Ireland’s batsmen of writing their names on the centurions honours board, no Zimbabwean or Bangladeshi passed even 50.

And talk of taking it to a fourth day is wildly optimistic – Zimbabwe only did so thanks to rain, while Bangladesh’s innings and 261-run defeat came in the middle of day three. Neither Test lasted more than 204 overs, just over two full days play.

Old Sam Beckett played a bit of first-class cricket, turning out for Trinity against Northamptonshire, although he did seem ill-matched with his team-mates, he wrote: “They were a happy band drinking and whoring and so on between matches and I would go off alone and sit in the church. I wasn’t at all what you would call a sociable sort of boy.”

Were he still around, he’d surely lift a sociable glass to toast the Irish team as they walk through the Long Room and out onto that famous field at 10.55am on Wednesday.

IRELAND: W Porterfield (c), P Stirling, A Balbirnie, J McCollum, K O’Brien, G Wilson, S Thompson, M Adair, A McBrine, C Young, T Murtagh; S Singh, L Tucker, B Rankin.

ENGLAND: J Root (c), R Burns, J Roy, J Bairstow, J Denly, O Stone, J Leach, Moeen Ali, C Woakes, S Broad, S Curran.

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