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Wisden Almanack 2024

Wisden Almanack: Ireland’s second Lord’s Test fails to match drama of first

England v Ireland Test 2023
by Steven Lynch 15 minute read

Ireland toured England in 2023 for one Test match and lost the game. Steven Lynch’s report appeared in the 2024 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

In 2019, Ireland had arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at Lord’s, and ran through England for 85. They lost, but it seemed a cricketing good-news story had landed. But, not helped by the Covid interruption, Ireland did not play another Test until April 2023, when they had three on turning tracks in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. By then, many of the old guard whose achievements had propelled them to Test status had gone – notably Tim Murtagh, who claimed 5-13 on that heady first morning four years before, but soon had to choose between occasional international appearances and the security of a county contract.

The team certainly looked the part at Lord’s: their emerald caps and traditional, green-trimmed sweaters might have come from the same batch as those sported by the amateur pioneers who bowled the West Indians out for 25 in 1969. But on the field, the difference in class was quickly apparent, even though England captain Ben Stokes – protecting an injured knee – hardly featured. A spirited display by Ireland’s lower order averted an innings defeat, but the result was never in doubt.

For England, minor concerns about injuries and workload ahead of the Ashes kept James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood on the sidelines, which led to a call-up for the strapping Worcestershire fast bowler Josh Tongue. His eventual inclusion in the final XI was especially good news for a family friend who, when Tongue was 11, had bet £100 at 500-1 that he would play Test cricket, and collected a cool £50,000. Tongue nudged 90mph, and took five wickets in the second innings.

While Ireland’s batting was reasonably competitive, their attack needed a sharper edge. In their previous three Tests, they had leaked 1,802 runs and taken just 22 wickets. It might have helped had the nippy left-armer Josh Little been selected – but, after playing for Gujarat Titans in the IPL final the previous weekend, he was rested. Eyebrows were raised when Cricket Ireland’s high performance director Richard Holdsworth explained: “We are incredibly proud to play against England at Lord’s – it’s a special occasion, but it’s not a pinnacle event.” Little was being saved for the qualifying tournament for the 50-over World Cup, which started in Zimbabwe later in June. Reaching either of those tournaments would pay off richly – in terms of exposure, and hard cash. As Holdsworth admitted: “Our pinnacle events would be white-ball cricket. A member with the funding we’ve got simply cannot commit to three formats of the game. It’s financially impossible.”

Ireland touring party: *A Balbirnie, MR Adair, C Campher, GH Dockrell, MT Foster, FP Hand, GI Hume, AR McBrine, JA McCollum, T Mayes, PJ Moor, PR Stirling, HT Tector, LJ Tucker, CA Young. Head coach: H Malan. Assistant coaches: RL Eagleson, GC Wilson. Strength and conditioning coach: BA Connor. High performance director: RJW Holdsworth. Physiotherapist: M Rausa. Analyst: SD Irvine. Team operations manager: CM Siddell. Media manager: CD Easdown.
Foster replaced CJ Olphert, who withdrew with a knee injury.

At Chelmsford, May 26–28. Ireland XI won by ten wickets. Toss: Ireland XI. First-class debuts: RJ Das, ES Kalley, JA Richards, NRM Thain; T Mayes. County debuts: MR Adair, C Campher, GH Dockrell, MT Foster.

Ireland cruised to their first victory over a county in a first-class match, with more than seven overs to spare, thanks to a national-record opening stand of 232 between McCollum and Moor. This was something of a double-edged sword for the tourists, as most of the bowlers were Irish squad members lent to Essex to give everyone a game; four of Moor’s five sixes came off Dockrell, normally a teammate. The home side had made the running on the first day, when 21-year-old Robin Das marked his first-class debut with a mature run-a-ball century. Ireland dipped to 65-5 on the second morning, but were rescued by Stirling, who put on 175 in 30 overs with Tucker, then 105 in 18 with McBrine. On the first day, Stirling had been playing for Warwickshire in the T20 Blast, but now reined in his attacking instincts. Tucker suffered cramp in his forearm at 96, and was out one run later. Another debutant, seamer Jamal Richards, caused much of the initial damage, and finished with 5-96. In their second innings, Essex set up a declaration: Irish loanee Adair thumped 85 from 66 balls, after 62 in the first innings. The umpires were Roy Black and Robert White.

Test match at Lord’s, June 1-3, 2023: England won by 10 wickets

Toss: England. Test debuts: JC Tongue, FP Hand.

Ireland’s second Test at Lord’s did not have quite the drama of the first, when in 2019 England were bundled out for 85 on the first morning. Set 182 for a famous win, Ireland were skittled for 38. This time they struggled from the start. But there was some entertainment for big crowds – around 28,000 were there on the second day, despite a train strike – not least the now familiar rapid scoring by England, admittedly against an underpowered attack. Zipping along at more than a run a ball, they completed victory shortly after tea on the third of the scheduled four days.

Stokes took his place as captain, amid worries about a knee injury; he won the toss, and was not required to bat or bowl. He did take a catch, though even that sparked injury concerns. “I didn’t pick it up,” he explained. “And my weight went on the inside of my knee, like it hyperextended – but it’s not a problem.”

England’s batting was as expected pre-Ashes, with Bairstow resuming as wicketkeeper in place of the unlucky Ben Foakes, but niggles among the bowlers led to a late call-up for the Worcestershire paceman Josh Tongue, who was included in the final XI ahead of Chris Woakes, despite a stellar record at Lord’s. Ireland gave a first cap to seamer Fionn Hand, prompting statisticians to cast around for the last time two body parts made their debuts together.

Play started on time, after the England bus was briefly held up by a Just Stop Oil protest between the hotel and the ground. It was cloudy and, after a quiet start, Broad removed Moor in the fifth over, then Balbirnie and Tector in his next, to leave Ireland reeling at 19-3. Briefly, they were 19-4, but Stirling reviewed his first-ball lbw, and DRS had it missing leg. Tongue entered the fray soon after. Running in quickly, and delivering slightly chest-on, he made McCollum – a well-organised opener – play and miss in a lively maiden. A caught-behind review in his third over proved fruitless, and the only other pre-lunch casualty came when Stirling gloved a sweep off Leach, popping an easy catch to Bairstow. Five overs into the afternoon, McCollum edged his 108th ball to slip, but Campher took up the baton. He rode his luck against Tongue who, in successive overs, was top-edged and gloved over the keeper. The last three wickets tumbled in 16 balls, Broad finishing with his 20th Test five-for.

England’s openers were soon on the attack. Crawley eased the second ball through the covers, and Duckett tucked a boundary off his legs. Later, Crawley collected three fours in succession off Adair, two via inside edges; the hundred partnership came up in the 16th over, and it was a surprise when Crawley fell in the next, Hand juggling a return catch for his first Test wicket.

England were only 20 behind by the end of the first day, and the limitations of the Irish bowling were exposed on the second. Four seamers of around 80mph held few terrors for Duckett and Pope, in his first match as official vice-captain; off-spinner McBrine gave some variety, but proved expensive. Duckett, in his first home Test after nine overseas, sprinted to three figures in 106 balls, adding 101 in the session as England piled on 173 in 29 overs by lunch. Pope reached his fourth Test century in the second over after the interval. Ireland needed a replacement ball to finally take another wicket: Duckett dragged Hume – the most experienced of the Irish bowlers, after a long domestic career in his native South Africa – into his stumps after a partnership of 252 in 43 overs.

So often the man for a crisis, Root this time entered at a cushy 361-2, and largely played second fiddle to Pope, though they traded sixes in one McBrine over. Another six by Pope, off Hand, raised the hundred partnership in 79 balls. Pope followed Duckett in scoring 100 runs in a session, and England might have declared at tea had he not been stuck on 197. Root, meanwhile, had moved to another fifty, with a ramp and a pull off the unhappy Campher; from the last ball before tea, he brought up 11,000 Test runs. For the first time since Madras in 1984-85, England’s first three wickets had all put on more than 100. Although Root fell immediately after the break, Pope skated to his double-century with a six, from 207 deliveries, with 22 fours and three sixes. He was stumped next ball. Armed with a lead of 352, Stokes declared.

Ireland’s openers negotiated the first six overs, but then Tongue, having gone wicketless in the first innings, immediately struck twice in the second: Moor wasted a review after being pinned in front of middle, and a lack of foot movement cost Balbirnie, feathering to Bairstow. In Tongue’s next over, McCollum jumped to avoid a short one, twisted his ankle badly on landing, and crashed to the turf, before being helped off. Stirling soon fell to Tongue, but Ireland’s most promising young batters – Tucker (hit on the helmet first ball) and Tector – ensured the third day would not be blank. The Friday featured 469 runs in all, the second-most in a day at Lord’s: in 1924, England scored 503, and South Africa 19.

Tucker’s neat 44 ended next morning when he gloved a sweep into his stumps, but Tector carried on to a half-century, driving well and defending manfully. But he slashed Tongue to gully, collapsing over his bat in horror, and next over Campher popped up a sweep towards fine leg, where Stokes – making his only scorecard contribution – grimaced after landing awkwardly on his knee.

At 162-6, a quick finish loomed, but Ireland saved some face as McBrine, a left-hander initially happy to defend, watched Adair hit out. He had warmed up with 62 and 85 in the Essex game, and now thumped Root for six and four in an over that cost 19; after lunch, he completed a 47-ball half-century with the first of three consecutive fours off Broad. It helped that Leach spent time off the field, with a back problem that turned out to be a stress fracture, keeping him out of the Ashes.

The pair zoomed past Ireland’s previous-highest partnership in Tests – 115 between Balbirnie and Stirling against Sri Lanka at Galle in April. McBrine reverse-swept Leach for four to reach his own fifty, while Adair surged into the eighties. Perhaps aware of impending immortality on the Lord’s honours board, he tickled Potts through to Bairstow. Their stand of 163 had doubled the score, and taken Ireland close to making England bat again.

Now it was McBrine’s turn to flirt with immortality. He guided Potts past the slips to reach 76, his highest Test score, but after 34 balls of defiance Hand provided Tongue with his fifth wicket. In came Hume, a No. 11 boasting a first-class century (for Gauteng in 2011/12). The new ball was taken, but Root stayed on, and Hume carved two fours to avoid the innings defeat. The teams trooped off for tea, but Broad ended the resistance eight balls afterwards. McCollum was padded up, prepared to jettison his crutches, but McBrine marched off to save his compatriot further injury. “It was fairly chaotic in the changing-room,” said Balbirnie. “If Andy had been one hit away from his hundred, he’d have gone out.”

England needed 11: Crawley pulled Adair’s first ball for four, coaxed the third through the covers, and on-drove the fourth. Ireland might have avoided slaughter, but slipped to their seventh Test defeat out of seven. For England, it was a useful outing, if lacking in tension. “Ireland showed grit and determination,” said Stokes. “They gave us a little insight into what we might have to do against Australia.”

Player of the Match: OJD Pope.
Attendance: 75,703.

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