Do They Play Cricket in Ireland? is journalist David Townsend’s story of following the Ireland team for 25 years as they rise from being one of almost 100 Associate teams to full Test member, taking in the battle for ODI status, iconic World Cup victories, and a first Test in Dublin against Pakistan – all culminating, a year later, in a Test against England at Lord’s before the Ashes. In the second of three extracts, Ireland complete one of their most famous victories, against Pakistan, in Jamaica in the 2007 World Cup. But it was a good toss to win…
The match that changed Ireland cricket forever could have been over before it began. St Paddy’s Day morning dawned grey and damp, and the squads arrived at Sabina to find a pitch as green as a hippie in a recycling centre. Drinking crème de menthe. If TJ [Trent Johnston, the captain] had lost the toss he reckons his side would have struggled to make 40. He won it and the rest really is history.
Initially little seemed amiss as Pakistan passed 50 with only two down but then TJ removed Mohammad Yousuf and an over later Inzamam edged Andre Botha [Boatsie] to Eoin at second slip. The same combination also accounted for opener Imran Nazir. Game on. When Boatsie finally took a blow he had 2-5 from eight overs.
The skipper cleverly brought Big Boyd [Rankin] back to take two wickets just as Kamran Akmal was threatening a recovery and, after another brief flurry, Kyle [McCallan] wrapped up the Pakistan innings on 132.
Willie Dwyer and his mates in the party stand could not believe what they had seen but Adi and TJ knew the job was only half done. The coach had his say in the dressing room then the skipper gave the speech of his life. Addressing each player in turn, he barked: “Do you want to be back in Belfast teaching geography on Monday? Do you want to be sorting mail in Dublin?” And so on.
It wasn’t going to be easy. Pakistan were embarrassed and came out determined to save face. Their response was fierce; physically and verbally. Brayso [Jeremy Bray] and Eoin went early; Nobby joined Porty. By his own admission, the keeper had been in no sort of form with the bat but you wrote him off at your peril. That day in Kingston he rode to the middle on his little green bike: the big boys were going to get a bloody nose.
Porty only made 13 but hung around long enough to add 47 for the third wicket, then Boatsie got a horrible decision. Lbw or caught? Obviously neither, but no-one seemed to know what the umpire had given. The O’Briens advanced the score to 81-4 and then a brief shower lopped off three overs, and four runs from the target.
This could still go either way. The press box was in turmoil with Irish newspapers holding front pages, pushing back deadlines and sub-editors digging out their cricketing lexicons. Robin Walsh, a recently-retired senior BBC producer, was fretting more than most. A legend at Broadcasting House, he had put the Nine O’Clock News to air more than once with pictures still being edited from theatres of war, yet here he was panicking over a few pars for a publication in the north.
Robin wrote a column of cricket news and gossip, gathered at leisure during the week, more often than not containing ‘this correspondent believes…’ which we all knew was shorthand for ‘Big Roy has told me…’ He was not a reporter but he knew enough to take a view and pen an intro on ‘the greatest day in Irish cricket history’. Never one to sell himself short, he may well have left out the ‘cricket’.
As the O’Briens nudged Ireland into three figures the Life’s man was congratulating himself; more so when Nobby danced down the pitch and planted Shoaib Malik back over his head for six. Only 20 to win now but attempting a repeat the Sandymount scrapper was stumped for a wonderful 72, exactly two-thirds of his side’s runs at that stage. He stomped off, cursing. Whitey [Andrew White] found the boundary but only lasted three balls, two more than Kyle.
As TJ walked in with 15 still needed, Robin sat down and wrote ‘Oh the heartbreak! Ireland were so near…’ He sat back and tried to relax with either intro ready to go. O’Brien the younger and TJ inched closer, then one of his mischievous colleagues said “What if it’s a tie, Robin?”
It wasn’t, of course. With the scores level, the skipper heaved a massive blow over the midwicket boundary that not only gave Ireland the D/L win but also took the Boys in Green past Pakistan’s original total. For some reason that always seems important to me.
A St Paddy’s Day reception had been planned for the players to meet fans in Ocho Rios, on the other side of the island. It turned into the wildest of parties. Alcohol was consumed in mindboggling amounts. Literally mind-boggling. Beer ran out first, then vodka followed by local rum, Bacardi and all the other spirits. By five in the morning there wasn’t much left of the top shelf of liqueurs that are only there for show and the janitor’s store was being raided for cleaning fluid.
Tomorrow: The ‘little ginger fella’ skippers England on the ground where he’d played club cricket as a teenager
More information: pitchpublishing.co.uk