It was the moment for which the Irish cricketing fraternity had been waiting for long – a Test match against England on the hallowed turf of Lord’s. When William Porterfield led Ireland out at the Mecca on 24th July 2019, it was a dream come true for the players and the fans alike. Though the Test was scheduled to be of four days instead of the usual five, it was the culmination of years and years of perseverance.
Just ten days earlier at the same ground, England had prevailed over New Zealand in an incredible climax to win the World Cup for the first time. This one-off Test against Ireland was perhaps seen by the hosts as a warm-up for the all-important Ashes series that was to follow soon after. However, they had reckoned without Tim Murtagh, the veteran Middlesex seamer who knew Lord’s like the back of his hand.
Having plied his trade for Middlesex since 2007, the 37-year-old Murtagh found himself in the visitors’ dressing room for a change. A key part of the Irish set-up since he made his international debut in 2012, he had bowled the first ball in his team’s inaugural Test against Pakistan at Malahide in 2018. Not surprisingly, he was given the new ball after Joe Root elected to bat on a surface that had a bit of green.
Ireland’s Tim Murtagh celebrates the wicket of Moeen Ali, his fifth victim, en route to 5/13 against England at Lord’s in 2019 (source – The Irish Post)
The sun was shining in all its glory, giving little inkling of the drama that was to unfold. After a few nervy moments, including getting out LBW off a no-ball from fellow debutant Mark Adair, Jason Roy edged the fourth ball of Murtagh’s second over to Paul Stirling at first slip. Like Murtagh, Stirling was a Middlesex player. As had been Ed Joyce, who had the honour of ringing the five-minute bell at the start.
Joe Denly took four fours in two overs off Adair, even as the London-born Murtagh kept things tight at the other end. It did not dent Ireland though, as it was Adair who had the final say by trapping Denly plumb in front to make it 36/2. In the next over, Rory Burns nicked one from Murtagh into the gloves of Gary Wilson. England were now in a spot of bother at 36/3, and the wheels were just starting to come off.
The promising Adair netted the big fish with the score at 42, as Root was adjudged out LBW after a successful Irish review. With Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali in the middle, there was hope yet for England to revive the innings. But Murtagh was in no mood to give an inch. Bairstow (bowled) and Chris Woakes (LBW) fell victim to ‘Dial M’ in the space of three deliveries, both for nought. England 42/6, Murtagh 7-2-10-4.
Many would have expected Murtagh to impress on his county ground, but this exhibition of seam bowling was bordering on the surreal. On course to become the first man to take a Test five-wicket haul for Ireland, he duly achieved the feat by having Moeen – who got a duck too – caught behind. He had now taken three wickets in five balls, and only 44 balls to complete his fifer – the quickest in a Lord’s Test.
Murtagh’s ninth over was his last, and his final figures read an astonishing 9-2-13-5, thus giving him a place on the coveted honours board. Big Boyd Rankin (2/5) joined in the fun by striking twice in two overs, leaving the score further in tatters at 67/9. Olly Stone, the third debutant of the match, struck a few lusty blows before being cleaned up by Adair (3/32). England were skittled for 85, before lunch at that.
The innings had lasted just 23.4 overs, making it England’s shortest completed Test innings at home. By any measure, this was one of the most extraordinary sessions of play ever witnessed in Test history. For England, it was nothing short of a catastrophe – this was their third sub-100 total in 16 months. For Ireland, it was akin to a fairytale, with Murtagh’s super show making the occasion all the more special.
Disappointingly, the fairytale did not last long. Despite taking a lead of 122, Ireland lost by 143 runs, after being bowled out for just 38 – the lowest Test total in 64 years. Nevertheless, the happenings of 24th July 2019 will forever be etched in golden letters in the annals of Irish cricket. Murtagh retired from international cricket four months later, thus marking the Lord’s Test as his final appearance for Ireland.