The wait was long and it extended for one more day due to rain but on 12 May 2018, when the Ireland cricket team stepped onto the field, clad in whites, it was a special feeling punctuated by nerves. It was a new beginning. It was a dream come true. Ireland had finally made their Test debut, against Pakistan.
It was a historic moment for the golden generation of cricketers who had for years yearned for this day. And thus the roller-coaster began. They started well, stumbled, resurrected, elicited hopes and battled hard. Kevin O'Brien was the chief architect of their resurgence as he entered the history books with a tenacious century. Ireland lost the Test but not without giving Pakistan a proper scare. At the end of it, smiles, disappointment, satisfaction and a sense of pride had encapsulated the beautiful Malahide.
Firstpost caught up with the hero of the match, Kevin O'Brien to capture the emotions of the special Test.
How was the experience of playing the first ever test?
Fantastic. Since the announcement of Ireland receiving Test status in June 2017 we have all looked forward to that first day of our first Test. Growing up I always dreamed of playing a Test match one day, but never thought it would come during my career. Receiving my cap on the second morning of the match was a truly special moment.
What was the feeling a day before the start of the Test?
To be honest, there were a few nerves, but nerves of anticipation for what was to come. It was something I’d always dreamed of growing up playing cricket with my brother Niall (O'Brien) in the garden. We expected that we may not get the best of weather on Day One, but the squad were just keen to get going.
What was the team's approach and mindset going into the Test?
William Porterfield, our captain, said it all – we’re here to win it. We’ve believed that we belong on the Test stage for many years, it was just great to get out there and show the world what we could do. Graham Ford, our coach, instilled that sense of confidence and belief in the week leading up.
Did the stature of the opposition intimidate you?
We have great respect for Pakistan – and had no delusions about the talent in their squad – but we have played them a little bit over the last few years, so had a sense of what to expect. They are a class team and we knew we’d have to be at our best.
Was playing at home a major confidence booster?
It was a great feeling – a Test debut on home soil. Malahide is such a beautiful ground to play at. We knew the conditions, we knew the pitch and we expected a big and vocal crowd behind us. I think we would have been confident no matter where we played, but it certainly added to our enjoyment of the occasion by playing at such a familiar venue.
From when had the preparations begun?
You could say it was from the day that the ICC announced Ireland had been granted Test status, but realistically we began preparations in earnest as soon as we returned home from the World Cup Qualifiers in March.
What was the biggest challenge going into the Test?
We had such a wet start to the season and lost quite a number of days of play in warm-up matches. So, getting enough outdoor training and match practice was certainly a major challenge for us.
Personally, what were the emotions you were going through, throughout the Test?
Day One being a complete washout was a little disappointing, but our attitude was captured by a local journalist comment in passing – we’ve waited 141 years to play a Test, so what was one more day. The morning of Day Two we received our caps, and I’ll admit that was an emotional moment – being handed my cap by Whitey (Andrew White) – a former teammate and a good friend. Once the match was underway we just settled down into a competitive mindset and played as well as we could.
Ireland started off well, then slipped. What was the feeling inside the dressing room after you were dismissed for 130 in the first innings? How difficult was it to maintain positivity?
We had bowled well in that first innings, but then faced a tricky half hour before lunch on Day Three. Pakistan grabbed four quick wickets and we were on the back foot. But I think we fought back and posted a total that got us back into the game. We remained positive that we could right the situation in the second innings – and we showed that we could.
And then there was a drastic turnaround from Ireland, how did that happen....
Outright determination – our first innings was a lesson in Test cricket, but we showed in the second innings that we learnt quickly and adapted to conditions. Our openers (Porterfield and Joyce) led the way with a great opening stand, and we just took the innings on from there.
What was the feeling of becoming the first Ireland player to hit a Test century? What was going through your mind throughout the innings, what was your approach?
It was a fantastic relief, and admittedly very tiring. To concentrate so intently for over five hours on a warm Dublin day was challenging. The quality bowling meant I couldn’t switch off for a moment. I don’t think I considered the prospect of a century until I got into the nineties. All throughout the innings the priority was to build as big a lead as we could as a team. It was a real team effort, and I received great support from Stuart Thompson and Tyrone Kane, in particular. Without their hard work at the other end, I may never have made three figures.
What was the biggest learning from the Test?
Respect for the long version of the game. Test cricket is just that – a test. I think we collectively learned the value of patience and sticking to a plan.
What was the feeling after the Test?
Mixed feelings. I was obviously delighted to have scored a century, but it was tinged with the disappointment that we lost the Test. If we’d lost convincingly, then perhaps that may have felt different, but even until the morning of the fifth day we had put ourselves in with an outside chance of a win. I believe we can now kick on and get better in this form of the game in coming years – hopefully, we can continue to bring on some new talent and create a formidable Test team.
What advice would you pass on to Afghanistan for their debut test? What should be their approach?
Enjoy it. You only make your debut once – so make the most of it. Don’t be nervous or daunted – you’ve worked hard to get where you are, and you deserve to be there. We obviously know their team well after many competitive games with them over recent years, and I wish them all well and will be keenly watching on to see how they get on.