Ireland may have set a target to become a Test team by 2020, but the fact is that the country has already been represented in official Test cricket quite a few years ago. Moreover, not only have Ireland played Test cricket, but they also boast of a 100% winning record.
The match in question was a solitary Test between Ireland Women and Pakistan Women played at College Park in Dublin and which lasted just two days – 30th and 31st July, 2000. Ireland then were a clearly stronger outfit than Pakistan on the women’s circuit, and the gulf between the sides showed in the result.
The ODI series preceding this four-day Test featured a string of heavy Irish successes. The hosts began by skittling Pakistan for 95 en route to a nine-wicket win in the first ODI, which was followed by wins with margins of 117 and 150 runs in the next two games. In tough conditions and facing a buoyant home side, the visitors were up against it from the word go.
While Ireland were on Test debut, the Pakistani women had played one Test match before – against Sri Lanka in 1997-98, in which they were thumped by 309 runs. Led by the seasoned Miriam Grealey, the Irish side for this landmark match bore a mix of youth and experience, the average age being 27.
The youngest member of the eleven was Isobel Joyce, who stepped down as Irish captain in March 2016. Joyce had just turned 17 and went on to deliver a wonderful bowling performance in this match. She was not even 16 when she made her ODI debut, against India in 1999, and till date remains one of the mainstays of the Ireland team.
Amid moist conditions following overnight rain, Pakistan captain Shaiza Khan elected to bat on winning the toss, a decision she was probably left to rue. Medium pace bowler Barbara McDonald dominated the early proceedings, as she destroyed Pakistan’s top order with a testing spell of 3/9.
A 17-year-old Isobel Joyce starred in Ireland’s inaugural Test with a brilliant bowling display (source – broadsheet.ie)
McDonald’s burst ensured that Pakistan lost four wickets – including that of the captain – for as many runs to crash to 10/4, the remaining wicket going to leg-spinner Ciara Metcalfe. At the other end, off-spinner Catherine O’Neill gobbled the fifth wicket and Pakistan were staring down the barrel at 21/5.
Opener Zehmerad Afzal – who presently plays for Cheshire – tried to dig in and shared in a partnership of 29 for the sixth wicket with Deebah Sherazi. However, the latter’s dismissal by O’Neill (3/15) triggered another collapse, as Pakistan succumbed to spin. O’Neill and Metcalfe, who finished with 4/26, made short work of the tail.
Pakistan lost their last five wickets for just three runs to be bundled out for 53, consuming a painstaking 47.4 overs. Only two women reached double figures, Afzal top-scoring with an obdurate 25. Ireland’s bowling was both stifling and penetrative, as evidenced by 25 maiden overs. Though Saibh Young went wicketless, she conceded only a run in her ten overs.
Ireland lost Clare O’Leary to Sharmeen Khan for a duck with only five runs on the board, but Pakistan failed to build on this start. Karen Young (58) and Caitriona Beggs (68*) put the game beyond Pakistan’s reach as they added 112 for the second wicket. Nazia Nazir took two wickets, but it hardly unsettled the Irishwomen.
Wicketkeeper Anne Linehan (27*) belted a few quick runs as Ireland set their sights upon a declaration. With the score reading 193/3 in 47 overs, Brealey decided it was enough, especially since there was always a possibility of rain hampering her team’s onward charge. With a lead of 140 on the first day itself, Ireland were well on top.
Pakistan reshuffled their batting order for the second innings, but it hardly helped. Sheerazi, promoted to open, was cleaned up by McDonald as the eventful first day drew to a close. A circumspect Pakistan ended the day at 8/1, facing an uphill task to stay alive in the contest.
The second day belonged to the teeanged Joyce, whose left-arm medium pace proved to be too hot to handle for the visitors. There was no play before lunch due to rain and when the match resumed, Joyce took full advantage of the seam-friendly conditions.
Joyce began by bowling Sajjida Shah and trapping Nazir LBW, both for ducks, to reduce Pakistan to 8/3. She followed it up by having the talented Kiran Baluch caught behind. Khursheed Jabeen and Afzal attempted a revival by adding 34 for the fifth wicket, but the writing was already on the wall.
Caitriona Beggs top-scored for Ireland in their inaugural Test with an unbeaten 68 (source – womenscricket.net)
Afzal top-scored for Pakistan again with 20, before she became the first of three wickets to fall to O’Neill (3/12) while the score regressed from 56/4 to 62/7. Jabeen stoically faced 156 balls, but could manage no more than 13 runs as Joyce returned to complete the last rites.
The last three wickets all fell bowled to Joyce as Pakistan’s agony came to an end after 54.1 overs, in which they crawled to a total of 86. Joyce, who did not bowl in the first innings and came in only as the fifth bowler in the second, finished with remarkable figures of 6/21 in 11.1 overs.
Ireland had won their first ever Test match by an innings and 54 runs in less than two days. While Ireland had galloped at 4.11 runs an over, Pakistan managed a rate of just 1.36 across both innings. Joyce was named as the player of the match for her bowling effort. It could not have been a better start.
Due to the Test getting over in double-quick time, two additional ODI matches were played at the same ground as an extension of the original series. Ireland won the first of these while the second was washed out, giving the home team a 4-0 win in the five-match series.
Unfortunately, Ireland’s inaugural Test also turned out to be their last. Women’s Test cricket across the world has gradually declined ever since, and today, except for Australia and England and to a certain extent India, it is virtually a dead concept. The rise of Twenty20 has instead given women’s cricket a highly feasible format.
Ireland’s women are not alone to have enjoyed a successful start in Test cricket without going on to play their next. Sri Lanka too have never played a Test after beating Pakistan in the aforementioned match. Pakistan themselves have played only three Tests in all and none since 2004.
As the Ireland men’s team gears up for the prospect of Test cricket within the next three years, let us not forget their female counterparts’ commendable achievement of winning their first official Test match in resounding fashion sixteen years ago.