Host of firsts

K Shahid reviews Pakistan's win over Ireland in the historic Test match

Host of firsts
It was the first ever Test match for Ireland, and as Pakistan came out on top on the fifth and final day of the match that had been reduced to a four-day contest, there were quite a few other firsts too – for both sides.

For Pakistan, it was their first Test win under Sarfraz Ahmed. Ireland, of course, had their first run-getter, first wicket-taker, first centurion Kevin O Brien, who was also the Man of the Match. But for the visitors, it was their two debutants who seem to have established themselves in the squad.

Imam-ul-Haq’s match winning 74* in the fourth innings chase, with Pakistan under severe pressure at 14/3,was the perfect response to the many critics that he has already mustered in his young career owing to his familial ties.

With Pakistan habitually struggling with the opening slot, and with even their prime batsman Azhar Ali traversing a string of low scores up top, Imam has probably secured his position in the near future, even if the much greater challenge of the English series is yet to come.

Kevin O Brien

Meanwhile, the other debutant Faheem Ashraf showed what he can do with the bat, scoring 83 in the 118-run partnership in the first innings with Shadab Khan (55), who himself was just a single match old ahead of this Test. This really put Pakistan in a position where they eventually were able to enforce the follow-on on Ireland – their first in 16 years.

However, Faheem would have liked to have made more of a mark with the ball – especially in the second Ireland innings. But what Pakistan absolutely have are two potential all-rounders, albeit youngsters who need to be handled with care such that their inclination towards excelling as both batsmen and bowlers doesn’t leave them neither here nor there.

William Porterfield and Sarfraz Ahmed

Sarfraz would be perfectly aware that this Pakistan side is still very much a work in progress

This is especially true for Shadab Khan, who might be a perfectly capable batsman and actually started off his first class career as a batting all-rounder, but is currently blooming into a world class leg-spinner, especially in the limited-overs formats.

For the bowlers, Mohammed Amir – despite another couple of dropped catches on his bowling – found his rhythm, especially in the second Ireland innings. But while Amir managed to take five wickets in the match, it was Mohammed Abbas’ nine – four in the first, and five in the second – that were decisive in Pakistan winning the match. Abbas is gradually becoming Pakistan’s top pacer in Test cricket.


Sarfraz, of course, would be delighted to get his first Test win. But he would be the first to acknowledge that if Ireland had scored another 30-40 runs in the third innings, the final innings chase could have been a lot trickier than it already was.

Considering that he started his captaincy tenure with a ‘home’ whitewash against Sri Lanka in October, and with a two-match series against England coming up, Sarfraz would be perfectly aware that this Pakistan side is still very much a work in progress.

Asad Shafiq

Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf

While Asad Shafiq seems to have some semblance of form, with a magnificent century against Northamptonshire in the warm-up game and then the 62 in the first innings against Ireland, it is Azhar Ali’s form that would be especially worrying for Sarfaz, with England looming. However, Babar Azam’s fifty in the fourth innings was a much-needed score for both the batsman and the management.

Would Pakistan go with the same combination against England, with five specialist batsmen, and Sarfraz, Shadab and Faheem as the three all-rounders – giving them five bowlers?

It is definitely too soon to expect Faheem and Shadab to handle the bowling burden, as was evident in the second Ireland innings. And hence, if the same team is played, Amir and Abbas would have to bowl out of their skins, and Rahat Ali would have to get among the wickets, for Pakistan to do any damage against England.