Belfast Telegraph

Ireland's Test debut grants Ford an opportunity to lay big foundations

 

By Ian Callender

Ireland coach Graham Ford has admitted he is caught between using his experienced players in this week's inaugural Test match and planning for the future.

Although the team which faces Pakistan at Malahide, starting on Friday, is almost certain to include 10 players, each with at least 61 internationals under his belt, the rest of the 14-man squad are the ones who will be around for years to come.

"It's a huge challenge for us, particularly against such a high quality opposition," says Ford. "Fortunately, for now, there are a number of experienced cricketers in the group who have played a lot of cricket, a lot of high pressure cricket, so they bring a lot of information into the group.

"But we do go in as huge underdogs and we have to find a few different ways of disrupting the opposition, so we will have to get our thinking caps on.

"Looking ahead, we know some players will shortly be calling time on their careers and we need to make sure there is real quality to fill their boots and that means a lot of opportunities for them to play higher level cricket.

"So, while this is exciting and a big moment, it is more about progress and to be recognised as a team who can mix it with the best consistently."

But Ford accepts and, indeed, warns the Ireland cricket followers it will not be a smooth or quick ride.

"What creates an extra big challenge is that we have climate disadvantages, we have a small cricket-playing population, compared to countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, so it will be a massive challenge," he says.

"Lots of facilities need to be developed but the plus side, and what really excites me, is the number of cricket clubs and the energy around them and how passionate people are. And seeing that will help ensure the game grows and produce better players."

Before all that, though, there is a first Test match to be played, due to last five days, but since Australia won the first ever Test, only Zimbabwe, in 1992, have avoided defeat in their first game at the highest level.

South Africa and New Zealand lost in two days and India and both West Indies and Pakistan, by an innings, inside three days. And huge margins of victories still happen regularly between established Test nations.

Ford does not want to get into the number of days the Test might last but knows what he wants from his players.

"Obviously we all want to win, but if we can get into a good scrap and the players show they are up for it and turn it into a real contest, I'd be over the moon and really proud of the lads," says the South African. "There'll be a lot of pressure coming with the occasion but having seen Ireland pull off some amazing upsets in the past, it looks like the Irish thrive on extra pressure and perform above expectations.

"But you still need a bit of luck in Test matches, especially going in as the underdogs, but all the lads can do is go out and show good basics and a lot of fight."

One player whose experience Ford will be tapping into this week is Ed Joyce, unlucky not to play a Test match during his four years with England but, four months before his 40th birthday, Ireland's best batsman will achieve his career ambition.

"He will be massively important, very knowledgeable. To pick his brains as a coach is very important for me. It's very tough for him from a body point of view and he had to ease out of the World Cup Qualifiers because his body was creaking. He remains motivated but gets a few messages from the body. There's going to be a time when he's going to have to say 'I just can't keep going' but with his knowledge and enthusiasm he can be used in many other ways and it's important we harness that. Let's hope there's a little bit of a fairytale about to happen in his career."

If Joyce is, comfortably, Ireland's longest-serving player - he played his first match in 1997 - at the other end of the experience scale is Instonians bowler Nathan Smith, who could make a memorable debut on Friday.

It would appear a straight fight between him and Tyrone Kane - who has played just seven T20s in 2015 - for the 11th place after both impressed in the trial games last month, with four and five wickets in an innings respectively.

As a result, Stuart Thompson and, yet again, reserve batsman James Shannon are likely to miss out but there are many more Tests to come. They just won't have the honour of being part of Ireland's first Test XI.

Belfast Telegraph

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