Irish hopes intact as bad weather derails Test debut

Dublin (AFP) –


When you've waited as long as Ireland have to play your first Test match, a few more hours' delay may not seem that significant.

Yet there was no denying the disappointment at a wet and windy Malahide ground in Dublin as rain meant no play was possible before lunch on Friday's opening day of Ireland's landmark fixture.

As ground staff did their best to dry out the square and outfield ahead of the one-off match against Pakistan, a few hardy spectators at a ground where temporary stands had increased the capacity to 6,000 continued to brave the elements.

A howling wind did not help, with umpire Richard Illingworth struggling to keep hold of his umbrella when he and his fellow English official Nigel Llong made an inspection before taking the predictable decision to abandon the first session without a ball bowled.

But despite the great skies, there was also a sense it would take a lot more than some bad weather to dampen the pride felt by so many within Irish cricket as their side stood on the brink of becoming just the 11th nation to play Test cricket.

That this match had captured the attention of an Irish public used to Gaelic sports, racing and rugby holding sway, could be seen from the fact that a preview of the match was the main item on Thursday's evening television news bulletin on RTE, Ireland's national state broadcaster.

It was all a far cry from the time when Ed Joyce, arguably the country's greatest batsman and set to play in this match, was physically attacked as a boy just for carrying a cricket bat.

- 'Momentous' -

Friday's Irish Times proclaimed: "Truly historic sporting occasions don't come around too often but today, for 11 men wearing white sweaters embossed with shamrocks, what unfolds at Malahide will be truly momentous."

"I've dreamed of being a Test cricketer for as long as I can remember. I must have dreamt the dream 100,000 times," Ireland wicket-keeper Niall O'Brien wrote in an accompanying column.

Yet while many Irish sports fans are starting to get acquainted with cricket, the sport has deep roots in the "Emerald Isle".

There are records of cricket being played in Ireland as early as 1731.

But the sport's reputation suffered from being seen as the creation of English "colonisers".

Ireland first made the rest of the cricket world sit up and take notice when they skittled out the touring West Indies, reputed to have enjoyed some typically generous Irish hospitality the night before, for just 25 on their way to a win at Sion Mills in 1969.

They made an even bigger global splash when they knocked Pakistan out of the 2007 one-day international World Cup tournament with a stunning St Patrick's Day win at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica.

But the joy in defeating Pakistan -- as well as Bangladesh -- in 2007 was eclipsed four years later, when England were beaten in a World Cup match in Bangalore.

That success redoubled Irish ambitions to play five-day Test cricket, still regarded as the sport's supreme format.

If conditions in Malahide remain cold and overcast they could yet favour Ireland, although neither side will relish batting first under cloudy skies.

"We've always got a chance, it's sport," said Ireland captain William Porterfield on Thursday.

"Are we favourites? No. But we've as much chance as anyone if we do the basics right, in our own conditions we will give ourselves a very good chance," he added.