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Cricket news - Crushed at Lord's, but no longer living off scraps

"I don't even know what we ended up on out there," William Porterfield said after the match. That's how quick it was.

It could not have ended any worse.

Day three started full of promise of a miracle to leapfrog Sion Mills (1969), Sabina Park (2007) and Bengaluru (2011). Fans streamed through the gates decked in green, revelling in their chance to witness history. Not like this, though.

The fifth lowest score in Test cricket, and the lowest Lord's has hosted. In terms of length, it was the joint third-shortest. These are the sorts of nuggets sides new to the format try and avoid. Like kids on their first day of secondary school, desperate to get by without incident. Wary of being bullied by the bigger lads.

Let's not forget the match started with England being blitzed out for 85 - the fourth time in the last three years they've been bowled out in a session. But when you're a less-established side, well, results like these do down the game as we know it, you see.

Ireland will forever be there at the top of the lowest scores list, etched into ignominy because of those 94 balls. It should not detract from what came in the previous 959, but as time goes on and the memory of those first two days diminish, it will.

"I don't even know what we ended up on out there," said a deflated William Porterfield post-match.

It was only 38.

***

Ireland have always had to make do with scraps from cricket's top table. Before there were scraps, they subsisted on sneers.

During an Ireland versus MCC match at Lord's way back when, Douglas Jardine showed up in the Long Room and enquired as to who the opposition were. When he was told they were "the Gentlemen of Ireland", Jardine quipped he'd never heard of such a thing, adding, "it must have been hard for them to raise a team".

When they turned over the West Indies in 1969 for 25, the insinuation was that the Irish players had kept their opponents up into the early hours the night before profiting in the morning. It's not true, of course: Sion Mills is a religious town and, at the time, you could not purchase alcohol after 10pm.

In 2015, after John Mooney took a contentious catch on the boundary against Zimbabwe which ended their hopes of qualifying for the next round of the World Cup, the state-owned Zimbabwe daily, The Herald, published a hit-piece on the 33-year old. Among some risible passages was the insinuation that a man who was once an alcoholic and has admitted to contemplating suicide during a serious bout of depression should not be trusted.

Even when credit is due, it's given in a roundabout way. Eoin Morgan, by virtue of securing a first ever 50-over World Cup win, will go down as one of England's finest captains. And while no one begrudges Morgan's move: such were the constraints of Irish cricket at the time, there was simply no way he would reach his potential.

But the overtures from across the Irish sea were brazen. To this day, there is resentment how, for example, in 2004 after a game between Ireland Under-17 and England Under-15, Morgan was approached by Paul Farbrace, coach of the U15s, right in the middle of the ground once the game was over. "I thought, you know, those two aren't chatting about the weather," remembers Irish coach Brian O'Rourke, who spotted the interaction as he was packing up on the side. "There was something going on. The penny dropped at that stage."

Even in the years before full member status was granted, Ireland were steadily accumulating a healthy schedule of fixtures. But when this started to impinge on the county commitments of certain players, clubs started applying pressure on their Irish players to put their country second.

Some compromised: for example, Ed Joyce struck a deal with Sussex that he would not play in the four-day Inter-Continental Cup competition and, in turn, Ireland use his absence to give experience to younger players. But Joyce was a rarity: as vital to his county as he was to his country. For the rest, there was a great deal more jeopardy.

In June 2017, when it was announced that Ireland would be a Test nation, the ECB granted those Irishmen playing their trade in the English domestic system a two year grace period. After this point - the end of this summer - Irish cricketers would not be considered as "local". Not only is there a fear player development will be stifled, but established players, such as Paul Stirling, may see more security in a county contract with Middlesex than moving his domestic cricket to Northern Ireland to continue as an international cricketer.

When the prospect of this England Test was floated in 2018, the proximity to the Ashes and so soon after the World Cup were concerns. And so, knowing Ireland were desperate for more red ball cricket, their third Test match was tailored for England's needs. A four-day warm-up ahead of Australia.

Publicly, there was gratitude. Privately, anger. As one Irish journalist put it on the evening of day two: "Always scraps, always f***ing scraps."

***

In the early afternoon of day two, the hosts capitulated from 171/1 to 248/8. On paper, 85 all out is grim. But this was worse. Comfortably in control one moment, up against it the next. The lead was just 126 with only two wickets in hand.

The ball was not moving around as much as day one, when Tim Murtagh ran rampant with five for 13. But Ireland ensured they remained in the game. Mark Adair and Stuart Thompson plugged away, giving little away. Thompson's persistence was rewarded with the wicket of Jason Roy, and once Jack Leach was seen off by Murtagh and Joe Denly by the poor calling of Joe Root, Adair gave Jonny Bairstow his second duck of the match and bagged Root for the second time in the match.

But as the English groans filled the heavy Lord's air, with fears of what Australia may do to this frail batting line-up next week, the more consistent, recognisable hum of Fields of Athenry took over. The song is an Irish ballad set against the Great Irish Famine which has become a staple of the Ireland national teams, in success and defeat. Thursday's rendition - perhaps its first outing at Lord's - was all about hope and belonging.

Defeats to Pakistan (five wickets) and Afghanistan (seven wickets) were somewhat inevitable being so fresh to format. Defeat here was, too. But here were Ireland, game in the palm of their hands. England subsisting on crumbs.

With the first ball of day three, Thompson took out Olly Stone's leg stump and the chase was finalised. Just 182 needed for a historic win. And that, unfortunately, was as good as it got.

***

The lights were on from the start. Chris Woakes' first over was accompanied by four shadows running into the crease alongside him. Overnight thunderstorms created the perfect atmosphere for seam bowling: thick, moisture-rich atmosphere juicing up the pitch and providing more than adequate movement through the air.

Chris Woakes, Lord of Lord's, took six for 17. Stuart Broad backed him up with four for 19. The game ending as it began, an entire innings packed into a session.

"We're pretty gutted. It's a quiet changing room," said Porterfield, dismayed and dumbstruck. "That shows you how much it hurts. But as much as everyone is gutted in the changing room now, I would like everyone, before they leave here, to reflect on what has happened. It doesn't happen every week, the position we got ourselves into."

Who knows when it may happen again. There is only one Test in their calendar, against Sri Lanka in February. As is the way with new Test sides, they are putting together their schedule as they go along, Living hand-to-mouth, getting what they're given.

What Ireland have found out is that getting into the exclusive Test club isn't the hardest bit. It's engaging other sides into deeming you worthy opposition. Yet over the last two-and-a-half days, they showed themselves to not just be worthy, but dangerous. Perhaps, they might have put other sides off.

"I think they earned the right this week in terms of playing Test cricket," said Root. "It was bowler friendly but they were outstanding. They put us under pressure throughout different parts of the game over two and a bit days. It felt like we were on the back foot and had to scrap to get back into the Test match. I can see them upsetting a few big Test sides in the near future, given the opportunity."

Much of the talk from former Irish players going into this match was that not every Test, every opportunity or every new step should be greeted as "momentous". Previous generations made the mistake of being thankful when they should have been ruthless.

You could not look at the last few days and not see a ruthlessness in this Irish side full of players who have fought for this moment, backed by former players who fought as hard before them.

And yes - there were moments Ireland failed to seize. But there were others where they did what others haven't.

"That first couple of hours is going to stay with players and Irish fans for a long time," said Porterfield. When they took England to the cleaners that first morning.

They then made hay that afternoon to establish their 122 lead. When, on day two, they pegged England back once more to set up a chase that, in the near future, they'll make because of today's experience.

More than six hours after the end of the Test, the home dressing room was empty. But across the hallway, the Irish dressing room was heaving, spilling out onto the balcony as family and friends were let into the inner sanctum to appreciate where they were and why they were there.

This, to them, was not momentous. This is now where they belong. At the top table. Keep your scraps. Ireland are here for your prime cuts.

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