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The Test

The reflection on the Malahide Test of 2018 by Jarrod Kimber.

A general view of Malahide Cricket Club 13/5/2018

They play to stop the trains

The locals marvelled at how the train from Belfast, which almost always zoomed through Malahide, would be stopping for five days. They seemed confused that a sporting event could go on that long and that the trains would need to be re-routed. 

Outside the ground, there was a sign flashing throughout the five days, "IRL V PAK TEST MATCH, 11-15 MAY, EXPECT DELAYS".

Ed Joyce is waiting. He's just tried to steal a run. In the first innings, after a lifetime of cricket, he got to the middle and received a questionable lbw. Now in the second, he's waiting to see if he's run himself out. It looked like a clear-cut run out, but the decision isn't made, and Joyce waits inches from the boundary. 

If any man knows how to wait, it's an Irish cricketer.

In Ireland they were late forming a board, meaning that cricket was rudderless. That proved costly when Irish nationalism and the GAA made cricket unpopular.  They beat South Africa and the West Indies twice, yet no one really cared. Even when they had the best run of any non-Test playing nation ever, they had to wait. 

Ireland have always expected delays.  Ed Joyce, after waiting an entire life in cricket, leaves Malahide's playing surface and will never bat in another Test. 

Malahide is a club cricket ground, Cricket Ireland tried to turn it into a Test venue, but nestled in the corner, in an ugly late century build is their club rooms.  During the Test, the great and the good of Irish cricket could be found in there, drinking, singing, sharing stories.

But even outside those club walls, the whole ground felt like that, a cricket community, old friends kept meeting up, giving hugs, talking about old times. Everyone was related to or knew a player; it was a club team playing Test cricket. 

No one showed this more than Stuart Thompson, who when he came on to bowl, looked like a club seamer, and when he batted, looked little better. But through the game Thompson got better and better, he recovered quickly in the first innings to take three wickets. His second innings with the bat was assured and attacking. 

They're club cricketers, but club cricketers who always stand up. 

It was Gary Wilson standing up when his arm was thought to be broken. The same as it had been Trent Johnston, or John Mooney or Alex Cusack. Once upon a time it had been Jimmy Boucher, Dermott Monteith, Alec O'Riordan and Alan Lewis.  Irish cricket kept finding players to stand up. 

And if Thompson is the modern face of that, Kevin O'Brien is the man who made it famous. 

If you look at O'Brien's overall record, there is nothing that shows up that seems remarkable, but we all know he is. We know that when Irish cricket needs it, O'Brien outperforms what he should be capable of. You could argue his innings in the 07 World Cup was the one that changed Irish cricket, but if it wasn't that innings, it was his innings in the 11 World Cup. And then there was this one, he was so angry, kicking at the ground when he was out - for top score - in the first innings. In the second he made up for it by playing the sort of innings no one thought O'Brien e was out after pulling Ireland up from embarrassment to near victory. 

There are - and will continue to be - better Irish players than O'Brien. He's not the best player in this team, he's possibly not the best player in his family. But because of when he stands up, you wonder if there will ever be another player who will play three innings as vital as he has for his country.

When Kevin O'Brien stood up, he wasn’t just a cricketer representing his team; he was a brother, son, husband, friend, and teammate of almost everyone. He was Irish cricket, in pure form. Ed Joyce is what Irish cricket wants to be, a smooth pro who strokes runs, Kevin O'Brien is what it currently is, flawed but with heart that stands up every time it's needed.

Sri Lanka's first Test was talked about as if an excitable newborn baby had been delivered. Bangladesh's first Test was acclaimed as the second coming of their nation. Ireland's is different. It's more like two old friends catching up after years, seeing something they've wanted to witness their whole life, and quietly having a moment across a crowded room. It's not as dramatic, but every bit as touching.

The Irish team play for their friends, family, the community, it's not a nation of cricket, it's a family Test team.  They play for everyone in Irish cricket, and they play to stop the trains.