Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Ireland ace Murtagh can bowl 'em out

Tim Murtagh is currently the County Championship's Most Valuable Player

Ireland will have the County Championship's Most Valuable Player in their ranks today when they meet Pakistan in the first of two one-day internationals at Castle Avenue, Clontarf (10.45am start).

There is a £10,000 prize for the winner at the end of the season and it is Middlesex opening bowler Tim Murtagh who is the early leader after taking a career-best 10-77 against Somerset at Taunton.

And that can only be good news for Ireland and coach Phil Simmons

this week.

"It was particularly pleasing to get 10 in a game at Taunton, which is traditionally a bowler's graveyard," said Murtagh.

"But I have been bowling well all summer and hopefully can carry it into Thursday's game, if selected."

The doubt over his place is simply because, 11 months after his debut against Australia, he has played only six games for Ireland and accepts he is still trying to establish himself.

"It has been stop-start so far with Ireland but I was happy with my performances in Sharjah (in March, when he bowled 18 overs in the Intercontinental Cup game for 28 runs and then took three for 11 in the Twenty20 game).

"It was hard work in the four-day game and then it was great to get a chance at the end of the tour, after missing the two ODIs, when hopefully I showed the management what I can do," he added.

A Twenty20 appearance was something of a rarity for Murtagh because he did not play in the shortest format for Middlesex last season.

"They are pretty keen to manage my workload," said the 31 year-old. "But I am equally keen to play as much as possible and hopefully I'll get more games this summer."

Murtagh may have 'only' been a squad member in the first year of his Irish career, but he has already recognised the winning mentality in the dressing room. So although Pakistan may be the sixth ranked team in the world in ODIs, it will not stop Ireland, five places below them, going out tomorrow and in Sunday's second game expecting to win.

"It can depend on which Pakistan team turns up but obviously Misbah (-ul-Haq, the captain) is a massive player, and they have some very good young bowlers," he added.

"I played against Junaid Khan when he was at Lancashire and they have Mohammad Irfan, the giant pace bowler.

"But we have some very fine players in our squad and in our conditions there is sure to be a few nerves in the Pakistan side."

It should also help Ireland that Shahid Afridi (who was Ireland's overseas professional in 2006) and the talented Umar Akmal are both missing the tour, but there is plenty of talent at the top of their game who will be on show for the spectators in Clontarf.

Pakistan have the No 1 bowler in one-day internationals, Saeed Ajmal, who has history against Ireland – on their last visit here in 2011, he had aggregate figures of seven for 42 in 13 overs in two comfortable wins at Stormont.

Pakistan can also boast the No 1 all-rounder in Mohammad Hafeez who still considers himself a "batsman who bowls a bit" but a look at the ODI bowling rankings sees him just three places behind Ajmal.

The tallest player in international cricket should also be on duty tomorrow, the 7ft 1ins Mohammad Irfan now teaming up with Junaid in a lethal new ball partnership to ensure that Umar Gul is not being missed.

Their batting, though, is what Ireland can target in the next two games.

Recently Pakistan have been heavily reliant on Misbah. Against Scotland his unbeaten 83 rescued them from 115 for five and it was no coincidence that the two games they won on their recent tour to South Africa was after Misbah raised his bat for his half century.

If Murtagh continues to lead the way, that is another reason for the tourists to be nervous and for Ireland to dream of another major scalp.

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