It wasn’t all that sunny in Malahide on Monday (May 14) but with Mohammed Amir spitting fire, it would have been easy to mistake it for a sunshiny day as the Pakistani paceman ignored issues with his knee to knead Ireland on a fast-paced day four of the one-off Test in Dublin.
That said, all of Amir’s 3 for 57 wasn’t enough to put to shade Kevin O’Brien’s aggressive defiance as the 34-year-old became the maiden Test centurion for Ireland with the hosts hanging by the skin of their teeth to avoid an innings loss, before reaching an unexpected 319 for 7 in 122 overs at stumps.
The fightback, which was largely built on Kevin’s seventh-wicket 114-run partnership with Stuart Thompson, helped Ireland establish a lead of 139 runs with one day left in the contest. After Thompson’s fall, Tyrone Kane stood his ground with an unbeaten 8 from 67 balls before the eighth-wicket stand realised 48 runs.
Kevin finished the day on 118 not out from 216 balls and Thompson fell after an inspiring 53, but the big question before the start of the penultimate day was if Amir, the left-arm paceman who bowled just 3.2 overs in Ireland’s second innings after retiring with a niggle, would return to have a bowl with the hosts comfortably placed at 64 for no loss after Ed Joyce and William Porterfield showed up with the fight which was missing in Ireland’s first-innings tally of 130.
The meek score was in response to Pakistan’s score of 310 for 9 declared, and it didn’t make for a pretty picture, more so since only two days of play were complete up until that point after the opening day’s play was called off due to rain.
Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan skipper, would have felt his side, now with Amir back and running, had a good chance to sweep Ireland, following-on, off their feet for the second time in succession with conditions and the pitch favouring his pacemen. The signs were positive at the start of the day as Joyce (43) and Andy Balbirnie (0) fell within an over of each other.
Niall O’Brien hung around a while but a corker of a delivery from Amir accounted for him in the 43rd over. Porterfield, who survived an easy run out not long before, was next to go as Amir incited an edge en route to Sarfraz, the wicketkeeper.
Much to Pakistan’s dismay, Amir limped off the field after bowling seven unchanged overs, and Mohammad Abbas (2 for 54) had to don the role of lead bowler. The right-arm paceman did well for a moment, accounting for Paul Stirling soon after lunch, but Pakistan needed Amir to return to see another wicket fall.
The left-arm paceman got rid of Gary Wilson, and with it brought up 100 wickets in the format from 31 contests, this after losing four years to a spot-fixing ban.
With only four wickets to spare, few believed Ireland could hold their own for much longer, but Kevin and Thompson ensured they did more than just that.
After levelling scores in the 76th over, Kevin went onto score a half-century and Thompson only grew in confidence, in large helped by Pakistan’s lacklustre fielding and inconsistent bowling. They reached 212 at tea and returned from the break without skipping a beat, scoring at will as the pitch dried up.
Thompson eventually brought up his half-century before being dismissed by Shadab Khan after facing 116 balls, but Ireland were almost 100 runs ahead at the stage. Pakistan had enough reason to worry now, and it must have been disconcerting that Kevin wasn’t letting them through yet.
If anything, he switched it up a notch even eventually got his century. Pakistan somehow had managed to let Ireland in on the contest, and if that wasn’t insulting enough, they let them get to a position from where they could go onto dictate terms.