International Cricket

Miracle at Malahide? Ireland actually have a chance to win their debut Test after following on

In 141 years of Test cricket, only Australia, with a 45-run success in that foundation fixture, have won their maiden Test match.

They couldn’t, could they?

But that Ireland can dream of a debut Test win on Tuesday after being made to follow-on by Pakistan is remarkable, even if there’s no “Miracle at Malahide”.

This is the 2,303rd men’s Test played since Australia and England established the format at Melbourne in 1877. In that entire 141-year history, only Australia, with a 45-run success in that foundation fixture, have won their maiden Test match.

And only three teams – one for every century in which Test cricket has been played – have won after following-on, with South Africa in 1894, England in 1981 and India at Kolkata in 2001, all beating Australia having been sent back into bat.

Now Sarfraz Ahmed, if only for a few hours perhaps, has to contemplate whether he made a wise move by becoming the first Pakistan captain to enforce a Test follow-on in 16 years.

In fairness to the wicketkeeper, with the first day washed out and a two-Test series in England on the horizon, it looked a reasonable decision when Ireland managed just 130 in reply to Pakistan’s 310 for nine declared at the Malahide Cricket Club.

But come stumps on Monday’s fourth day, Ireland were 319/7 – a lead of 139 runs, with Kevin O’Brien 118 not out.

Monday also saw Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir take his 100th Test wicket, but the paceman was struggling with a knee injury.

O’Brien was just the fourth player to reach three figures in his country’s first men’s Test, with Australia’s Charles Bannerman, Zimbabwe’s Dave Houghton and Bangladesh’s Animul Islam the others.

“It’s a very proud and emotional moment,” said O’Brien. “Hopefully now we’ve put ourselves in a good position to try and go ahead and win it.

“There’s no reason why we can’t (win),” added O’Brien, whose 50-ball hundred against England at Bangalore in 2011 remains the quickest scored in a World Cup.

There were echoes in Malahide of England’s follow-on win over Australia at Headingley in 1981, which saw Ian Botham turn the tide with a stunning innings of 149.

Botham received great support from a left-hander making his maiden Test fifty, the late Graham Dilley, just as O’Brien did from another left-hander compiling his first half-century at this level in Stuart Thompson.

“Thommo batted unbelievable,” said O’Brien. “I played against him 10 days ago and he got 160-odd and I was cursing him every time he kept whacking me to the boundary.

“He played brilliantly after tea, he hit the ball so sweetly and scored very quickly and took a bit of pressure off me.”

O’Brien still rates his Bangalore century as the best of his career but the 34-year-old accepted he may have to revise his opinion.

“If I can continue on tomorrow for another hour and a half, that 118 changes to 170-odd, this could top it.”

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