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Postcard from Lords – A special test match

Old Father Time watches on. He has seen it all played out on the field below but the drama of this week’s test match in Lords could almost have sent him spinning even if there was only a light wind blowing out across St. John’s Wood giving some relief from the 30 degree temperatures.

At early lunchtime on Wednesday, below that famous weather vain, the scoreboard read England all out for 85 – the first time they had been bowled out in the first innings of a test match at Lords before lunch. England, the One Day Cricket World Champions who were crowned at this very venue just ten days previously, had been skittled out by an Ireland side playing only their third test match.

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The Old Father Time weather vain above the scoreboard at the Tavern Stand.

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Ireland celebrate bowling England out for 85

I never played cricket as a kid– save for mowing the grass out the back garden to the lowest level and playing a bit of tennis ball cricket. Yet, the game was a part of my sporting childhood. Those long summer days when cricket was played out across five days on the telly, taking up its part in the TV sporting summer that included Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

And while we had Irish heroes to cheer on at the Tour, cricket was very much an English game and as such, unlike any other sport, I’ve always been an England cricket fan rooting for various iterations of England teams that contained David Gower, Mike Atherton and Alistair Cook across the decades.

I first visited Lords as a young teenager during a trip to stay with my Aunt who lived in London. In between the travelling to all the usual tourist sights such as Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge, my Aunt took me to Wembley – where she sweet talked the Irish security guard on the gate to allow me walk up the famous tunnel of the old stadium – and also she brought me to the home of cricket.

We spent a day watching Desmond Haynes hit an unbeaten 222 for Middlesex against Sussex at Lords. I’ve been back a few times since to watch England play test match cricket but last Wednesday was something special.

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Middlesex v Sussex – August 1990

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I never thought I’d get the opportunity to cheer on an Irish side in a test action against England. Now was a chance for Irish players to walk through the Long Room on the way out to the field and take on England. There is such history about the place with cricket first played here in the 1814 season, test matches since 1884 and the pavilion built in 1890.

I just hoped that Ireland would be competitive on day one and boy were they. There is a unique sound about test match cricket at Lords. The humming of conversation that rings out around the ground, occasionally punctuated by bottles of bubbly being uncorked or the sound of bat on ball followed by polite clapping.

Although on this morning there was also the sound of giddy Irish people – myself included – celebrating the constant fall of English wickets. It was incredible. A few days after Olé Olé and the Fields of Athenry rang around Portrush for Shane Lowry, here at the home of cricket those familiar tunes began to filter out from the Edrich and Mound stands.

England one down, then two down, oh wait another wicket, what is that 42-4. There were ironic cheers around the ground as England made 50 but by then they had lost seven wickets. Tim Murtagh, bowling on what was effectively his Middlesex home turf, ran in from the nursery end to tear the English apart. He would have his name up on the famous Lords Honours board by the end of the day with his five wicket haul conceding a mere 13 runs.

I was nominally sitting at the back of the Grand Stand but this was genuinely edge of the seat stuff as I leant forward each time Murtagh or Big Boyd Rankin ran in. When the wickets fell, it was straight up out of the seat with a football style goal celebration.

Sitting either side of me were a pair of middle aged Englishmen both with their elderly fathers watching the game. They were disgusted with their team’s performance but genuinely delighted with how Ireland were playing and were sporting enough to be amused by the amazed the reaction of the sizeable Irish crowd around them without being patronising.

We chatted about the joy of their team winning the World Cup earlier in the month and about the Ashes series to come. Their hopes for winning against Australia seemed to shrink as the morning went on.

I was listening in to BBC’s Test Match Special and Jonathan Agnew and Alistair Cook were scathing about the England batting performance. Meanwhile Niall O’Brien was enjoying how his brother and former teammates were doing out on the pitch. Lunch was scheduled for 1.15pm but by then England were all out.

I enjoyed the early lunch by nipping into the museum – reputedly the oldest sporting museum in the world – and seeking out the little Ashes urn that is kept here at the back of the Pavilion.

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After lunch, Ireland put in a very creditable batting performance getting initially to 132 for the loss of just two wickets before England got on top. Balbirnie got to his 50 before he went as Ireland lost five wickets for just 15 runs.

By the time Ireland made 200 they were nine wickets down and it was time to head for the exits. I walked up St. John’s Wood Road towards Paddington to catch the train to Heathrow with a grin fixed to my face. Yes, it would turn out that England would win the test on Friday but boy had Ireland given them a game. The Boys in Green in their Test Match cricket whites had truly arrived on the world’s cricketing stage.

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