Guerilla Cricket's Nakul Pande: 'Australia are the only side who've won their first test match and that was the first ever test match'

Fri, May 11 2018

Malahide Cricket Club ground, where Ireland host Pakistan in the historic first test. Credit: Macdara Ferris (ETPhotos)

Today marks arguably the biggest day in the history of Irish cricket as Ireland's men's team begin their first-ever game as a test nation against Pakistan in Malahide.

Irish cricket's breakthrough on the world stage came against Pakistan in 2007, when the Trent Johnson-captained side blitzed their opponents in Jamaica during the 50-over World Cup.

It's been a long road to test status for Ireland since then – and they've controversially ommitted from next year's World Cup in England as the number of places available to qualifiers was reduced.

On this week's extratime.ie Sportscast, we were joined by Nakul Pande of Guerilla Cricket, the alternative online commentary service that surprisingly beat the likes of BBC and Talksport to the exclusive ball-by-ball commentary rights.

Pande put Ireland's first men's test (the women's team played their one and only test in 2000, coincidentally against Pakistan, and won) into both a historical context and into the wider picture of the power struggle in world cricket.

“It's hugely exciting and important,” Pande tells extratime.ie.

“The last new men's test team were Bangladesh, who played their first test in 2000. So it's been a very long time.

“Cricket is in a bit of an odd place in terms of whether it wants to expand and become a truly global game or not.

“The next year's World Cup will have fewer teams than any since 1992, which is keenly felt by Irish cricket fans as there were fewer places available in the qualifiers.

“Against that backdrop of cricket retrenching and not apparently seeking to expand and seek new audiences, it's hugely important that Ireland and Afghanistan will be playing their first men's test matches.

“We're delighted at Guerilla Cricket to be a part of this and that we're going to be there to witness history.”

The ascension of Ireland (and, next month, Afghanistan) to full test status is in stark contrast to the decision to reduce the 50-over World Cup to protect the major, cash-generating nations.

It's a confused policy that has also seen the T20 (20-over game) opened up to all cricketing nations while mixed signals continue to come down from above.

Pande said: “It's important to note, unlike other sports, that whereas FIFA is a true governing body, [the International Cricket Council is not].

“For all of their criticisms, FIFA and UEFA have a clear remit and commitment to expanding the game. The European Championships are being expanded, the World Cup is being expanded.

“The ICC is more of a member's club, a member's union. The voices of a couple of those members have become disproportionately powerful in the last few years.

“This is what has led to this retrenchment and this sense that you can't work out where the priorities lie or a sense of a cohesive direction cricket on a worldwide scale is going to.”

Despite Pakistan's comparatively lowly status – they've slipped to seventh in the test rankings, ahead of only Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe – it remains a daunting task for Ireland.

The visitors haven't played a test at home in nearly a decade after an attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009, and they've played limited games in the United Arab Emirates since.

Another blow to Ireland's chances came when uncapped pace bowler Nathan Smith pulled out with a side injury, to be replaced by Craig Young, but Pande believes the door is still open for Ireland.

He said: “It's worth pointing out what Ireland are up against here, and also what an opportunity this is.

“Australia are the only side who've ever won their first test, and that's because it was the first ever test match. Only one other nation, Zimbabwe, have never lost their first test match.

“But Ireland have a very experienced team, who are experienced in UK and Ireland conditions – and most of this team have played an awful lot of county cricket.

“They're far more experienced in the conditions than Pakistan. Given the likely forecast for the first three days of the test match, there's likely to be some atmospheric conditions, which would play into Ireland's hands as the home side and as the side with some bowlers who are skilful at exploiting these conditions.

“There's very few better exponents of bowling in these conditions than Tim Murtagh over the past 15 years. Boyd Rankin as well, and a couple of young, exciting bowlers like Tyrone Kane.

“The Pakistan side have a lot of pedigree there but there's actually not much test experience. That would be the sliver of hope I'd hold out to Irish fans – and not just a sliver.

“But, having said, of course Pakistan are favourites.”

You can listen to commentary of Ireland's historic first test against Pakistan free of charge on Guerilla Cricket via your internet browser and on mobile.

The service is primarily funded by donations, so if you like what you hear, have a look at their fundraising page here.