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Will Porterfield will savour the Long Room moment of Irish fulfilment

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William Porterfield has said that playing Test cricket at Lord’s will be “right up there, if not the pinnacle”, of Ireland’s journey to the top table of international cricket.

While Ireland have faced England at Lord’s in a one-off ODI in 2017, their captain said on the eve of their third Test appearance that the opportunity to walk through the Long Room and down the famous steps from the Lord’s pavilion on Wednesday morning would be a “pretty special moment”.

“We have got quite a few World Cups under our belt, little things like that,” Porterfield said. “They have been pretty big occasions, but getting to Test cricket and then having the opportunity to play here at the home of cricket is a pretty special thing.

“We had a taste of it a couple of years ago with the one-dayer here, coming down through the Long Room and everything else and the things you see that other sides get to do in terms of Test cricket, so I’m sure that’s a bit of a taster of what it’s going to be like come tomorrow morning when we walk down through – should that be the first two lads out there or walking down as an eleven.”

This match will be the second men’s Test to be contested over four days following the ICC’s approval of a trial of the format in October 2017. South Africa’s victory over Zimbabwe at Port Elizabeth in 2017 is the only match since to be played under such conditions since the 1970s. Porterfield played down suggestions that the shortened match would diminish the occasion in any way.

“If you look across world cricket now, a lot of focus, a lot of crowds and everything else – probably barring England, Australia and India to a fair extent where you get crowds when those three play against each other, it’s a good initiative.

“You’re probably missing out on less than two sessions throughout the five days. You are still making up time with 98 overs. I think that the pace at which some Test matches are played at these days anyway, it might be a good thing for the game as well.”

Porterfield declared that all 14 members of his squad were in contention for a place in the starting eleven on Wednesday, although a subsequent back spasm for James McCollum may have changed that prognosis slightly. Either way, four of the squad – Mark Adair, Simi Singh, Lorcan Tucker and Craig Young – yet to make their Test debuts. While Porterfield admitted there would be some nerves for the possible debutants, he said it was perfectly fine for there to be so.

“They are young kids. They might not have played in front of 25,000 before or whatever it is. You take in different factors of the game of cricket. Once they get out there and get over the first five or ten minutes, they will get into the contest of bat and ball, but they could be lying if they don’t acknowledge there will be a few nerves knocking around.”

England will be making a quick transition between the white-ball and red-ball formats, ramping up towards the Ashes after a long World Cup campaign, but Ireland themselves haven’t had much time in whites this summer. The visitors have contested limited overs series against Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and West Indies on the international stage, while on the domestic scene their first-class competition, the Inter-Provincial Trophy, consists of only six matches a season, a number that Porterfield is keen to see increased.

“There’s a lot of county cricket, four-day, first-class experience within the side. We’ve got a lot to draw on. In an ideal scenario, we’d be at the stage back home where we’ve got 10 or 12 first-class games throughout the summer as well as various other fixtures. We’ve got to beef up our domestic programme, especially having missed out on county cricket, both white-ball and red-ball.”

ALSO READ: From World Cup magic to four-day Tests

Two names in the Ireland squad who do have experience at the home of cricket are Paul Stirling and Tim Murtagh, who have plied their trade on the county scene for Middlesex.

“Having both of those lads who have played a lot of cricket is good for the lads just to go and have a chat to and sit down and talk about it if there’s anything they feel they want to focus on with regards the ground, the slope or anything really.”

Porterfield himself has a history with the venue, having been part of the MCC Young Cricketers in his formative years between 2003 and 2006, and he reflected on his time as part of the programme, admitting he’d never have thought he would be back here playing Test cricket.

“To be honest, probably not,” said Porterfield. “There are quite a few lads on the actual staff who were groundsmen at the time. It’s been slightly different catching up with everyone and being the other side of it. It’s still pretty special. We used to have to dish out the programmes in the boxes and stuff every morning, so little bits and pieces that you have to do. It’s going to be slightly different being on this side of the fence.”

It has been a fine week for Irish sport, with Shane Lowry claiming his first major golf title this past weekend at Royal Portrush. While Ireland come into this Test as clear underdogs, their captain insists they’re in it to win it.

“It’s Test match cricket for a reason – it’s tough. But it’s eleven guys against eleven guys, it’s bat against ball. You take names, reputation, everything out of it. You’ve just got to take each delivery as it comes, no matter which way it goes.”

Would it be the greatest moment in Irish sport if they were to come out victorious?

“I wouldn’t say that if we win this Test match it would be the greatest thing that’s ever been achieved in Irish sport. But as far as cricket goes, it will be.”



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How Jharkhand pulled off ‘a repeat of Eden Gardens’ in Agartala

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Ishank Jaggi, the Jharkhand batsman, was resting his sore back in the dressing room when PN Singh, the team manager, sat beside him and quipped, “Eden Gardens ka repeat ho jaaye (Should we have a repeat of Eden Gardens)?” Jaggi, as he later told ESPNcricinfo, replied: “Kabhi Kabhi ho sakta hai, baar baar nahi (It might happen once in a way, not always).”

The comparison was apt. Tripura had scored 289 at home in Agartala and then bowled Jharkhand out for 136, enforcing the follow on with more than two days left to play in Agartala. Singh’s reference was obviously to that Kolkata Test of 2001. It seemed hopeless then, and it did now, and little did Jaggi know that he would be at the centre of this “kabhi kabhi ho sakta hai” turnaround.

Jharkhand went on to win in dramatic circumstances, with the final wicket claimed in possibly the last over of the contest, Tripura bowled out for 211 after Jharkhand had declared on 418 for 8.

“We were just beginning to get a little nervy, but eventually managed to hold on because we were determined to not be denied after having come that close. It would’ve been cruel to not win after that kind of a comeback”

Ishank Jaggi

“It was around 4pm, and just an over earlier the umpires got together to take a light reading,” Jaggi, who had hit 107 (retired) – with Saurabh Tiwary scoring 122 not out – in the second innings, said. “We knew it was a race against time. We possibly had six balls to take the last wicket, or else it would have most likely been a draw, because once we went out, there was no way we were coming back on.”

When Ashish Kumar, the senior-most bowler in the Jharkhand XI, trapped Rana Dutta lbw, the camp went crazy. They had become the first team since Sourav Ganguly’s Indians to win a first-class game in India after following on. Astonishingly, Jharkhand also became the first side in Ranji Trophy history to come back from a follow-on and win. “It’s unbelievable,” Jaggi added.

Victory was even more special as it had come without a number of their first-XI players. Ishan Kishan, Varun Aaron, Shahbaz Nadeem and Rahul Shukla were all out due to niggles. Ashish, with 30 first-class games under his belt, and Ajay Yadav, slightly less experienced, had 19-year-old debutant Vivekanand Tiwari as the third fast bowler. The trio picked up all ten second-innings wickets between them.

Before that, Jaggi and Tiwary got together in the first session on day three, with Tripura having reduced Jharkhand to 138 for 5 in the second innings, still 15 runs behind. Jaggi, a veteran of 84 first-class games, hit his 19th first-class century, before retiring because of that flared back. Tiwary was still there when Jharkhand declared.

“We batted for a bit on the final day, just to tire them out even more,” Jaggi said of the plan. “I don’t think anyone in Tripura’s position would have expected the turnaround after picking up five wickets in the second innings. In going all out for a win, they kept attacking with their main bowlers, we kept playing them out and eventually they were tired.

“Later when their second set of bowlers came on, we started picking the runs. Once the partnership between Saurabh and me crossed 100, we decided to slowly try and push the runs, so that even if we get bowled out, there is some sort of a total to defend.”

There was a small issue, though. Jaggi’s back was beginning to hurt. He has a left-side disk compression in his spine, a problem he has had to manage for seven years now. His left leg is also a tad longer than his right, leading to issues. This even forced him to pull out midway through the white-ball season.

“As I got tired, I decided to attack the new ball in search of quick runs,” Jaggi said. “But once it got to a stage where I had to go off, we decided having a new batsman with fresh legs in Anukul Roy was the best way forward, since they at one stage had nine fielders at the rope, and I wasn’t able to run.”

Roy contributed a quickfire 25 to set up the declaration.

This gave their bowlers a little over two-and-half sessions to defend 265, and victory was very much in sight when Jharkhand reduced Tripura to 41 for 5 at lunch.

“We briefly switched off after picking five wickets, but Manisankar Murasingh played a fabulous knock to make a century. We were just beginning to get a little nervy, but eventually managed to hold on because we were determined to not be denied after having come that close. It would’ve been cruel to not win after that kind of a comeback,” Jaggi said.

Were there any celebrations afterwards? “No restaurants, no entertainment, no food outside,” Jaggi laughed. “We stayed put at the hotel, enjoyed a quiet dinner, and all of us went to bed early.”

Now, they have to wait. The Assam v Services game in Guwahati had to be abandoned because of political turmoil in Assam, and that’s where Jharkhand are scheduled to travel next. The situation hasn’t improved, and the match might well be rescheduled.



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Somerset accept 2020 points deduction over ‘poor’ pitch

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Somerset have confirmed that they will not be appealing against the decision to dock them 12 points for preparing a substandard pitch for the 2019 Championship title decider against Essex.

The ECB’s Cricket Disciplinary Committee (CDC) imposed the deduction last month after rating the Taunton surface as ‘poor’, noting its “excessive unevenness of bounce”. While Somerset accepted the charge, they disputed the suggestion that the pitch was not the best they could have produced.

However, after reviewing the CDC’s full report and relevant procedures, the club has decided not to appeal because of the “heavy burden of proof” required to overturn the original verdict.

“This conclusion has been reached because it is clear that, in order to overturn the decision, the club would have to demonstrate conclusively to the Panel who originally implemented the sanctions that they had come to the wrong decision,” a Somerset statement said. “Such a heavy burden of proof is extremely difficult for any appellant to discharge.

“The club are very disappointed with the panel’s decision but has concluded that it is in the best interest of all parties to move forward.

“We can now focus on preparing the team and the venue for the demands of the season ahead, with a specific focus on performing successfully, with a highly talented and competitive group of players and a clear focus on developing broader strategies to support this objective through our teams off the field. The club notes the strong message the panel ruling sends to all first-class counties.”

Somerset finished the 2019 season second in Division One, 11 points behind Essex, after drawing a rain-affected final game – extending the club’s wait for a maiden Championship title. They will begin 2020 on minus-12 points, with a further, suspended 12-point deduction hanging over them.

Somerset’s captain, Tom Abell, denied that the club had set out to produce an up-and-down pitch, but said they would have to deal with the points penalty “as best we can”.

“It’s a big blow, nobody wants to start the season 12 points adrift, but we know what we’ve got to do,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “The particularly disappointing thing was that we accepted the charge of it being a poor pitch, however, we were also found guilty of not producing the best wicket possible. That was disappointing because we wanted a pitch to spin, we wanted to win the game, but we felt like we were playing on the best pitch available to us.

“It’s still obviously pretty raw… but the issue wasn’t the spin, apparently. The reason we got deducted points was because of the surface and the inconsistent bounce… But I can assure you there was no intent to produce a wicket that was going to go up and down. But obviously the punishment’s been handed out, and we’ve got to deal with that as best we can.”



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Buttler, Stokes and Archer back for South Africa T20Is, no room for Root

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England have named four uncapped players in their ODI squad to face South Africa, while recalling the likes of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer for the T20I series to follow. Moeen Ali and Jason Roy return in both white-ball formats after being rested for the New Zealand tour, but there was no room in the T20I squad for Joe Root.

Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson have all been picked in 50-over cricket for the first time – though only Brown and Parkinson retained their T20I spots. Of the group that beat New Zealand 3-2 last month, Sam Billings, James Vince and Lewis Gregory also miss out.

The three-match ODI series, starting on February 4 at Cape Town, will be England’s first involvement in the format since lifting the World Cup in July. Eoin Morgan remains as captain, with Dawid Malan winning a recall after his excellent T20I form and Chris Jordan and Sam Curran also included, having last won ODI caps in 2016 and 2018 respectively.

The squad contains eight members of the World Cup-winning group. Mark Wood is also rested, alongside Buttler, Stokes and Archer; Liam Dawson has once again been overtaken by Joe Denly as the spinning allrounder; and England appear to have moved on from Vince and Liam Plunkett.

The four new faces were all involved, to varying degrees of success, in New Zealand. Banton scored 56 runs in three innings, at a strike rate of 164.70, Parkinson claimed a four-wicket haul in his second game, while Brown and Mahmood picked up three wickets each. In List A cricket, Banton scored two hundreds as Somerset won the 2019 Royal London Cup; Lancashire’s Mahmood was the competition’s leading wicket-taker with 28 at 18.50.

England will also play three T20Is in South Africa and they have prioritised the shortest format ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup. The absence of Root suggests his chances of involvement are receding, with England well-stocked for top-order batting options.

“These two squads were selected with an eye on the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020,” England’s national selector, Ed Smith, said. “In the T20s, a number of players who were rested for the successful 3-2 victory in New Zealand return to the squad: Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jason Roy.

“We want to expand the pool of players who can perform successfully for England, while also helping the team to peak for major tournaments.”

England ODI squad: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Chris Jordan, Saqib Mahmood, Dawid Malan, Matthew Parkinson, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Chris Woakes

England T20I squad: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonathan Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Pat Brown, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Matt Parkinson, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Mark Wood



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