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Our Sporting Lives and Times: How Ireland have many memorable nights to reflect on after playing in their 1,000th game

From humble beginnings in 1855 to shock wins on world stage, it has been a remarkable journey

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Party time: Ireland celebrate their stunning triumph over Pakistan, then the World No.4 side, in Jamaica at the ICC Cricket World Cup on St Patrick’s Day 2007

Party time: Ireland celebrate their stunning triumph over Pakistan, then the World No.4 side, in Jamaica at the ICC Cricket World Cup on St Patrick’s Day 2007

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Party time: Ireland celebrate their stunning triumph over Pakistan, then the World No.4 side, in Jamaica at the ICC Cricket World Cup on St Patrick’s Day 2007

When the players took the field in Greater Noida on Friday for the first game in their Twenty20 series against Afghanistan, it was Ireland's 1,000th cricket international.

They have come a long way since the first, a two-day game against the Gentlemen of England in Phoenix Park on September 10, 1855 - that was 22 years before the first Test match, and 17 years before the first FA Cup final.

Andrew Balbirnie, the 677th player to be capped by Ireland - there have been 706 so far - was the lucky man to lead the side into their landmark match.

"It's always special to lead an Ireland team out - I haven't done it a lot but the first time in the Caribbean was the proudest moment of my career," said the 29-year-old Dubliner.

"The 1,000th game is a testament to everyone involved in Irish cricket through the years and all the work that has been done behind the scenes - we as players are just very fortunate to go out there and play in the 1,000th game."

It was only Balbirnie's seventh match as Ireland captain following his appointment at the end of last year - virtually a career short of his predecessor William Porterfield, who led Ireland in more than a quarter of all their matches, a remarkable 253.

Ireland made a winning start with a 107-run victory, bowling their opposition out for 56 and 38.

Details of the match are sketchy. Although batsmen's scores, extras and mode of dismissals are recorded, there are no bowling figures but the scorecards tell us that Thomas Quinn, on his home ground, took 12 wickets in the game (six in each innings) - Ireland's first man of the match.

The Gentlemen of England returned to Dublin the following year with a stronger side because although Ireland made only three changes, they suffered their first defeat, by 39 runs.

Thanks to the efforts of Derek Scott, former honorary secretary of the Irish Cricket Union, and the CricketEurope website, there are match reports on all the early games - well, the 11-a-side ones.

Of the first 1,000 games played by Ireland, only 983 are included in the official statzone because although recognised as official internationals depending on the opposition one of the teams batted more than 11.

Indeed, in their third match, against the United All England XI, Ireland had 18 batsmen. It proved to be the difference because the XVIII won by six runs.

In contrast, Match 8 was an Ireland XI against the wonderfully named Col Buchannan's XVI of Scotland but the hosts - the game was played in Drumpellier - still hadn't nearly enough batsmen, bowled out for 59 and 40, not one of the 30 dismissed Scotsmen reaching double figures. Ireland won by an innings and 44 runs.

On six occasions, Ireland actually played 22 against either an All-England XI or the United South of England XI - resulting in four defeats and two draws - passing 100 only twice in their 11 long innings.

A game against I Zingari, a nomadic amateur side which was founded 10 years before Ireland's first international and still plays today, was the last recognised international which was not 11-a-side. That was Match 89 in 1906.

The proliferation of matches throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has been exponential. It took 56 years for Ireland to play their first 100 matches; the last 100 have been played in less than three years and seven months.

Indeed, while it took 143 years for Ireland to play their first 500 games, they have played 500 games in the last 22 years.

For most of the 20th century, Ireland's staple diet of fixtures consisted of the annual first class (three-day) game against Scotland, plus games against Wales, the MCC and visits by touring sides which were playing Test matches in England.

The most famous victory of all took place on July 2, 1969 at Sion Mills, the North West village which hosted West Indies on what was their fourth visit to Ireland.

Ireland had already beaten West Indies - in a three-day game back in 1928 (Match 125) - but the match which has gone into the history books and put the Irish on the world map was the day they bowled out the tourists for 25.

Dougie Goodwin (5-6) and Alex O'Riordan (4-18, including 12 off his last over during a last-wicket partnership of 13) were the bowling heroes as Irish cricket made its first appearance on the front pages of national newspapers.

After the Second World War, English counties were also regular visitors to Ireland but it would be 1997 before the Irish tasted victory, in a Benson & Hedges Cup game against Middlesex (Match 476) when then South African captain Hansie Cronje (cap No.606) made the first of his three appearances as an overseas professional for Ireland.

He scored 94 not out in Ireland's 281-4 and although Middlesex were bowled out for 235 - and Cronje was later banned from all cricket for match fixing - there was no suggestion that he made any approaches at Castle Avenue that day.

Four years before the Middlesex game, Ireland had applied for and been accepted as an Associate Member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), which entitled them to take part in the qualifying competition for the World Cup.

After more than a century of playing amateur cricket, it was the first sign that the ICU, as it then was, had greater ambitions. In 1995, they employed their first professional coach, former England bowler Mike Hendrick.

It would be another 10 years, however, before Ireland, at their fourth attempt, qualified for the World Cup finals but it took only two matches to announce their arrival on the big stage.

A tie in their opening game against Zimbabwe was a hint that they would be competitive but it was on St Patrick's Day 2007 that Ireland defeated Pakistan, then ranked No.4 in the world, by three wickets with the result that stunned the world.

For Warren Deutrom, appointed the ICU's chief executive just four months earlier, it was, literally, a game-changing moment.

"That was the point it became so clear there was incredible talent and belief in Irish cricket and that gave us, as an organisation, the self-belief to be better," he reflected. "There seemed to be no reason, thereafter, why we couldn't chase bigger goals.

"Seeking Test cricket as a goal followed the 2011 World Cup. It was a spectacular occasion for us to beat England in Bangalore, it was the moment we said, 'Do you know what, we have done this again'. I think it was obvious that greater opportunities were out there for us."

Deutrom admits that night in Bangalore is still his favourite moment from the almost 400 games played by Ireland since his appointment.

"Watching when we were 111-5, I was thinking, 'Don't let us lose by 200'. After a while we realised something remarkable was happening. We had that sheer moment of disbelief (when John Mooney hit the winning runs), texts coming in, people looking at us for various reactions and then doing 50 interviews the following day. That for me will always be the most extraordinary moment in my time."

Kevin O'Brien, the match-winner after scoring what is still the fastest World Cup century, from 50 balls, knew Ireland were going to win from 15 overs out.

"They (England) were so flat, stunned, and had no answers," he recalled. "A special night which catapulted Ireland forward and my favourite game."

O'Brien, who made his debut in 2006, has played more Ireland matches than anyone else - yesterday was his 365th - and so has been a part of the journey which saw Ireland play in a third successive World Cup, beating West Indies in the 2015 edition and becoming the 11th Test-playing nation when they faced Pakistan at Malahide in 2018.

In any review of the first 1,000 matches, however, No.978 will always have a special place for the 11 players, officials and 10,000 Ireland fans who were at Lord's, the Home of Cricket, on day one of the Test against England.

It really doesn't get any better than bowling out England for 85 and although Ireland were dismissed for 38 in their second innings, they and five-wicket hero Tim Murtagh will always have that first morning.

The journey continues and with Ireland on the world stage and the increase in T20s, they are likely to have played their 2,000th game well before 2050.

Balbirnie, with 130 games under his belt, is certain to be a part of the immediate future and he knows the squad's responsibility: "There have been so many memorable games in the past, so our job is to make sure that there are just as many memorable games in future."

Landmark matches

1st match - v Gentleman of England, at Phoenix Park, September 10-11, 1855. Drawn.

100th match - v Scotland, at Hamilton Crescent, July 20-22, 1911. Drawn.

200th match - v Scotland, at The Grange, June 30-July 3, 1956. Drawn.

300th match - v Sri Lanka, at Eglinton, July 7-9, 1979. Drawn.

400th match - v Free Foresters, at Lancing College, July 18, 1991. Drawn.

500th match - v Denmark, at The Hague, July 21, 1998. Lost by three wickets.

600th match - v Denmark, at Upritchard Park, July 7, 2005. Won by 73 runs.

700th match - v Nottinghamshire, at Trent Bridge, May 3, 2009. Lost by 134 runs.

800th match - v Afghanistan, at Rathmines, July 9-12, 2012. Drawn.

900th match - v Pakistan, at Malahide, August 18, 2016. Lost by 255 runs.

1,000th match - v Afghanistan, Greater Noida, India. March 6, 2020. Lost by 11 runs (DLS).

Matches to remember

253 - v West Indies, Sion Mills. July 2, 1969. Won by nine wickets.

631 - v Pakistan, Kingston, Jamaica. March 17, 2007. Won by three wickets.

765 - v England, Bangalore, India. March 2, 2011. Won by three wickets.

858 - v West Indies, Nelson, New Zealand. February 16, 2015. Won by 4 wickets.

943 - v Pakistan, Malahide. May 11-15, 2018. Lost by five wickets.

978 - v England, Lord's. July 24-26, 2019. Lost by 143 runs.

Most caps

Kevin O'Brien 365

William Porterfield 301

Gary Wilson 292

Paul Stirling 280

Andrew White 232

Kyle McCallan 227

George Dockrell 223

Niall O'Brien 216

Trent Johnston 199

John Mooney 182

Results

Played 1,000 Won 354 Drew 185 Lost 432 Tied 4 No Results 25

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