London: This might be an away Test for Ireland, but in reality no place could feel more like home than Lord’s does for Tim Murtagh.
On another madcap day in St John’s Wood, it was a lesson that England learnt the hard way.
This Test might only be Ireland’s third, and their maiden appearance at Lord’s, but in a curious statistical quirk it was also the first to be played at the ground where the opposition had more first class appearances there than England – Murtagh’s 72, combined with 21 from his teammates, outstripping the 88 combined from this strangely patchwork England XI.
Murtagh’s magic morning was not the product of mere chance, more the appropriate culmination of years of experience hard-earned on the county scene. When he made his first class debut in 2000, England’s Sam Curran was only two years old, and while he first emerged at Surrey, it was a move north of the river to Middlesex in 2007 where he really began to make a name for himself.
Thanks to those 12 years of tireless service for Middlesex, no current bowler can reasonably claim to have more experience of bowling at Lord’s, and despite his lack of his express pace, his nibbling accurate seamers have been the bane of many county batsmen’s existence, his 800 first class wickets a testament to that fact.
However, while the lineage of his route to a five-wicket haul in his maiden Lord’s Test is easily explained, his path to international cricket was somewhat less straightforward. Born not far from The Oval in Lambeth, Murtagh played for England in the 2000 U-19 World Cup and had aspirations of graduating to the senior side but never quite made the cut.
A chance conversation with Middlesex teammate and Ireland international, Ed Joyce, in which he revealed he had an Irish grandfather, led to Joyce persuading him to switch international allegiance – and once his grandfather’s birth certificate had been tracked down, via a trip to the south of France – Murtagh qualified for Ireland in 2012.
Once Trent Johnston retired and Boyd Rankin, back in Ireland colours once again for this Test, opted to play for England, Murtagh soon became the leader of Ireland’s attack, and while his 74 ODI wickets have come at an average of 30.94, his economy rate of 4.54 marks him out as a tricky customer and an unsurprising candidate to be a success in Test match cricket – then again what would you expect from a man with the vast experience of 228 first class games.
If, thanks to Murtagh, there was a gulf in experience at Lord’s between the sides before the match started and by the time he had finished his devastating nine over spell, it was more of a roaring chasm, littered with the bodies of English batsmen.
Joe Root might have won the toss, but that was by some distance the only thing to go his side’s way in an opening session that brought England crashing down from their World Cup winning high at breakneck speed.
When judging what to do at Lord’s look up not down goes the cliche, and so despite the decidedly greenish tinge to the pitch, under sunny north London skies Root chose to bat – if England could knuckle down and see off the first hour or so then this seemed a day for making runs.
That would prove to be an if as big as any written by Rudyard Kipling, as Murtagh bowling with all the nous you would expect from a man who has 291 wickets at Lord’s at an average of 23.98, tore England’s perennially naive top order to shreds.
Debutant Jason Roy was first to go, fortunate twice already not to be out, a maiden innings of five to forget. By the standards of the game Murtagh had to wait a little while for his next, more than a third of England’s entire innings in fact, unfortunately for the hosts that was only eight overs, the dismissal of the other opener Rory Burns starting a collapse that would have embarrassed a house of cards.
In an ideal world England would have liked to rest almost all of their World Cup winners, but this is a jam-packed summer and with the Ashes just around the corner they could afford no such luxury, three of the men who stood triumphantly on the turf here just ten days ago, skittled by Ireland’s Murtagh spree.
With Ben Foakes eyeing his gloves, Jonny Bairstow was never going to miss the chance to play, but he looked all at sea in a six-ball duck that managed to squeeze in a surprising amount. Warned for batting too far out of his crease on the danger area of the pitch, backing out of a delivery at the last minute and seeing his stumps broken and then finally put out of his misery by Murtagh an over later, bowled for real this time as he irresponsibly tried to smash a booming drive outside his off stump.
Two balls later Chris Woakes, perhaps playing to secure his place among England’s Ashes bowling line-up, was out LBW. A third consecutive duck added to England’s scorecard when Moeen Ali was caught behind in Murtagh’s next over.
England went from 36/2 to 43/7 in the space of 22 balls. Five wickets lost with just seven runs added to the total. Murtagh on the honours board inside the first 15 overs of the game.
He would finish with 5/13, no bowler has taken the same amount of wickets for fewer runs in the ground’s history, it took his total at Lord’s to 383 in all formats – since 2000 no man has more at a single venue. There really is no place like home.
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