Niall O’Brien: When Ireland play England, you can’t rule anything out

Can the visitors run a World Cup-hungover England close at Lord's?

Niall O'Brien Kevin O'Brien Ireland v England


A match years in the making

During my own career, I never thought I’d be around to see a test match between England and Ireland at Lord’s. Irish cricket has come a long way in a relatively short space of time – just go back 15 years or so, the game here was really stagnating and stalling, but now it’s on the up. There’s a real feel-good factor – and what a time to play England, the world champions. In the UK, everybody is talking about cricket.

This is a massive opportunity not just for Irish cricket, but for cricket in general to again show what a diverse sport it is and how the biggest can play against some of the smaller sides. It’s wonderful and it’s a big thumbs up to everyone involved in the sport in Ireland going back a long, long way.

Of course, there will be mixed emotions for me. I’ll be there on Wednesday morning and I’m sure there will be a part of me that will think, “Oh wouldn’t it be nice” – but generally I don’t miss playing cricket. I’m enjoying watching from the commentary box.

But I’m really thrilled for the match. I can’t wait to be in there, soaking up the atmosphere. I would have loved this game to come in my playing days, of course, but I’m not getting any younger or fitter, so I don’t think it would have been wise for me to hang around for this game.

The good thing about the current crop of players is they know exactly what’s gone into taking Irish cricket where it is and they appreciate and show their support for players past and present. Everyone involved can raise a glass for the Irish taking the field against England. It should be a good encounter and an exciting game: there’s going to be a full house at Lord’s, which is absolutely sensational for these guys.

England – 1/12 | Draw – 15/2 | Ireland – 25/1

Ireland’s team selection

I’m really happy with the last four or five weeks for the Irish side. The big thing for me was the coaches saying to themselves, “You know, we need to get some young blood in the team”. What you want as a coach is to see young players taking the opportunity given to them. The young guys settle into team quickly but it also spurs the older generation on. It makes the older generation think, “Right I’ve got to get a bit better here to keep my place”.

That’s what Adi Birrell did in 2002: he brought in the likes of myself, my brother Kevin, William Porterfield and Eoin Morgan – and he effectively said to the older guys, “These are the new kids on the block. If you want to stay in this side, you’ve got to prove me wrong.” Over the next six to 12 months, these youngsters will keep progressing and it’ll be interesting to see how some of the senior statesmen react to that.

Ireland can compete against England, but I don’t think they can beat them. It should be a great opening to the test match season in the UK ahead of the Ashes, which is just around the corner -this is an absolutely wonderful curtain-raiser.

It will be a brave decision from Graham Ford if he goes with Boyd Rankin, Tim Murtagh and Craig Young – three quicks, not much batting there, meaning a slightly long tail. On the flipside, you could have the likes of Kevin O’Brien, Stuart Thompson and Mark Adair, all-rounders more than capable with the bat, in that latter middle order to compensate.

Boyd Rankin

Young has been out of the side for a long time in red ball cricket. But he’s had a bit of a resurgence and has had a good season this year. He’s a big confidence player and there’s a good chance he could open the bowling with Murtagh, because Rankin doesn’t necessarily like opening the bowling.

Adair has also acquitted himself well. He’s had a tough time and got released by Warwickshire after a pretty poor time there due to injuries and potentially some other issues. But he’s gone back to Ireland and has got the runs and the wickets – so far he’s really taken international cricket well. He’s a good character. He’s got that belief in his own ability that sometimes at international level you need; it’s a bullish attitude but so far, he’s delivered. Who would have said 12 months ago he’d be turning out in a test match for Ireland? All credit to him for turning his career around.

With the bat, James McCollum will more than likely open with the captain, followed by Andrew Balbirnie, who I think will bat number three. He’s overcome a little bit of an injury and Paul Stirling should bat number four. The important thing for Ireland is to see off that new ball, so Paul Stirling gets to play against a slightly older ball. That’s when he’s going to be pretty devastating.

Paul Stirling

Jason Roy

England need to put the World Cup win to bed now. They need to focus back on the red ball and will want to win the upcoming Ashes. If they lose the Ashes it’ll take a bit of a gloss off the World Cup win.

Joe Root takes over the reins for the five-day format, so I think he’ll be trying to instill that white ball discipline and England will be really up for this. It’s a good chance for them to make a mark on the test season.

Jason Roy’s going to make his test debut, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he went out and smashed it. He’s that kind of player. It’s been two years in the making and is a bit of a gamble, I suppose. He’s more of a free-spirited kind of player, but he’s got the mentality, the attitude and self-belief to be a real success. Roy can take to test cricket like David Warner, who had only played two or three first class games in his career before his test debut – everyone said he was too loose outside the off stump, played too many shots. Well, his average is close to 50 in test cricket.

So there’s no reason why Roy won’t be a success. It’s good for him to make the side in Ireland ahead of the Ashes. It gives him a chance to find his feet. But his confidence will be high and if he gets going on the opening day, it should be entertaining for the crowd.

Ireland’s chances

Ireland won’t feel aggrieved that England are resting players. It’s just a case of the way the scheduling falls. The Irish players will appreciate the fact some England players have been playing cricket for 10 weeks and it’s been an emotional time for them. A lot of them will be fairly weary and they’ll need a rest. If Ireland have any sense, they should be looking at the great opportunity to turn a slightly weakened side over.

If Ireland bat first, they need to get through that new ball fairly unscathed. Stuart Broad is going to take the new ball. He’s under pressure in his place and is going to be firing – he’s been playing a lot of red ball cricket for Nottinghamshire. Sam Curran’s come back from injury, had a wonderful IPL, but he’s obviously pressing for his test place in a wonderful summer last year against India. So Ireland’s openers have got a real task.

When Ireland get the new ball in their hand, they’ve got to make it count. They need early wickets and to get the likes of Root in early. The four-day test match could play into Ireland’s hands a little bit more. It might mean England need to be a touch more aggressive in the way they bat and they might need to declare before the close of play to try to get a couple of early wickets in order to fast forward the game.

It’s going to be very difficult. England are a world-class side, but Ireland can run it close. The last time these teams played, in Malahide, for a large part of the game Ireland looked like they might win. Ben Foakes came in and played really well and got man of the match award. So England won’t be underestimating Ireland. The last thing Trevor Bayliss wants on his CV is a test match loss to Ireland.

Is it too much to ask for Ireland to win? We can’t rule anything out, especially with Ireland against England – as seen in the past, some sensational things have happened. Do I think Ireland will beat England? No, I don’t. Do I think Ireland can give them a scare? Yes, I do.

England – 1/12 | Draw – 15/2 | Ireland – 25/1

What do you think?