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Smith shows discipline and control fit for the Test stage

 

By Ian Callender

Nathan Smith will sit out Instonians' opening Lagan Valley Steels T20 Cup match this afternoon as he begins the countdown to what could be a memorable Ireland debut on Friday - in the first men's Test match against Pakistan at Malahide.

A day after being named in the Ireland squad for only the second time, the 21-year-old showed why he has been backed by Head Coach Graham Ford with figures of 7-1-11-2 for Instonians, helping them to a five wickets victory over North Down on Saturday in the only Robinson Services Premier League game.

The top flight teams switch to T20 mode today, with coloured clothing and a white ball, so Smith is happy not to be distracted by the change and concentrate on playing his part in Ireland's biggest ever match.

The opening bowler admitted he was shocked to receive the call-up last Thursday night.

"You can't begin to describe the feelings that that are going through your head because it was a bit out of the blue," he said. "I wasn't exactly expecting it but it's fantastic. I can't wait."

Smith's only previous call-up was for Ireland's Intercontinental Cup match against the Netherlands, also at Malahide last August, but he wasn't selected for the final 11.

He was then on stand-by for the abandoned West Indies game at Stormont and after winter nets he was part of the Ireland Wolves squad that went to La Manga, where "we got four days' good training" pre-season.

"Unfortunately the trip to Bristol (with the Wolves) was cancelled and I missed selection for the Somerset game," added Smith (right).

"But I played in the two trial games in Dublin. It was great to get out there and show what I can do and then get a reward is fantastic."

The Australian-born Irish passport-holder was in the batting team for the first game in Merrion - when Tyrone Kane, his rival for a place in the side on Friday, took five for 54 in 18 overs - and with the second day washed out he did not get a bowl in the match.

But, two days later he was in action at Pembroke and figures of 16.4-5-33-4, which included the wickets of opening batsmen Jack Tector and his Northern Knights captain and Instonians team-mate James Shannon plus international Simi Singh, propelled him into Test contention.

Smith admits "it is all about timing" and while there will be 10 Test debutants in the Ireland side - Boyd Rankin played one match for England - Kevin O'Brien, for example, has been waiting 12 years and 307 matches for the chance to play Test cricket.

Now rising stars like Smith come onto the scene and his first senior appearance could be in the highest form of the game.

"We'll see what conditions are like and on the day we'll know who's going to play but if I get the opportunity I'll be ready to go and very much looking forward to it," he said. "At the end of the day I'm just thrilled to be part of this historic occasion."

Explaining the surprise selection, when contracted players Barry McCarthy, Peter Chase and Craig Young - with 96 caps between them - were all left out, Ford said: "Control and discipline in the bowling is really important.

"We have Boyd who is the out and out strike bowler but the other three (Tim Murtagh, Kane and Smith) give us control. Pakistan play with flair as a group of cricketers, and if we are not disciplined they could take the game away from us pretty quickly. It's important we stay in the contest and if they want to score runs they have to score from difficult areas and hopefully not from easy release balls."

The 14-man squad meet up tomorrow, after the current round of County Championship matches, although following McCarthy's omission and Rankin's non-selection by Warwickshire, Tim Murtagh and Gary Wilson are the only players who will be flying in from England.

Paul Stirling is already 'home' after being left out of Middlesex's game with a tightness in his calf but he is expected to be fit to take his place in the Ireland middle order on Friday.

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