Ireland’s First Test Match: Going from making up the numbers to full members of the cricket world

Irish Cricket will be fully encompassed into the cricket world as they prepare to play their first ever test match in Malahide on Friday.

The historic moment has been 10 years in the making since turning the national side professional back in 2009, to concentrate on the 2011 World Cup in India.

Middlesex player Paul Stirling spoke to WNOL’s Lee Pearson about being a part of the journey as well as looking to the Friday test.

“There is bound to be immense pride, representing my country in our first ever test match will definitely be up there in my career achievements.”

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“It has been a long time coming, there will be some nerves we all want to do well, but hopefully once that first session is over we can settle down and enjoy the game, the atmosphere and play some good cricket.”

But as Paul says this moment has been a long time in the making with cricket being firmly in the background of the Irish sporting hierarchy.

“It’s difficult, it’s not a particularly popular game with other sports like Gaelic football, rugby and football being the mains,” he said. “It was hard to find opportunities to play, luckily I found a place to play in Stormont.”

His country soon came knocking after promising performances.

“I think I scored two 50s and a couple of hundreds in my first 12 games. It wasn’t the best of returns but the national side in those days was an amateur organisation, it was about two years later they started handing out incremental contracts to allow us to focus on cricket full time.”

Having a stable footing in the game allowed Paul to enjoy the sport more. In the same year as becoming a professional player he signed a contract with Middlesex, joining fellow compatriot Eoin Morgan – now England’s One-Day captain.

“Having Morgs there helped, having an Irishmen in and around the club help me settle quite well. Eoin was a huge talent, if not technically correct, he has a good cricketing brain and we get on well. I don’t see him as much thanks to his English exploits but we find time for a trip to the golf course once in a while.”

But it was on the international scene where Stirling really began to make an impression. A career highest score of 177  Toronto against Canada came before a memorable World Cup in India in 2011.

“Nothing could beat that day in Bangalore. We were dead and buried at a hundred and something for five, then big Kev (Kevin O’Brien) strolls out and plays one of the best innings I have ever seen.”

“It was a monumental effort, and to do it against England made it a little bit sweeter, especially as we were the little nation turning up to make the numbers.”

Unfortunately for the Irish they will not be taking part in next year’s World Cup held in England and Wales, as they failed to qualify earlier this year, something Paul says will hurt the game in Ireland.

“Of course it will hurt. It is the biggest tournament we can play in the sport. To miss out by a narrow margin is hard to take, it’s one of those things where we couldn’t get over the line and the Windies’ experience got them over it in the end.”

Asked whether this was down to the ICC reducing the number of teams for next year’s tournament he said: “To an extent yes. We wanted the chance to show of our talents on the world stage. You Only have to look at Bermuda in 2007, us in 2011 and Bangladesh back when they started to see every nation can pull off an upset.

“Reducing the numbers narrows the attractiveness of the game to other nations, even though the qualifiers are competitive.”

But for now, the first Test match is the full focus of the day, as well as other opportunities.

“We can only look forward to establishing ourselves as a competitive test nation, and hopefully getting that first win sooner rather than later.”

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