“It is a big honour for me and my team to play this historic Test match – the first Test match to be played in Ireland,” Sarfraz said. “Everyone will see this match so we are very ready to play, it’s a great match to play in.”
Almost the entire focus in the build-up to the game has been on Ireland, which will suit Pakistan just fine. Pakistan will take being part of history here, but the Test will also double as crucial preparation for their two-Test series in England later in May and June. There they will attempt to at least match the successes they had in England in 2016, with an engaging series ultimately tied 2-2. The side has lost a vast swathe of experience since then – most obviously Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, but they are now also without Yasir Shah, who played a crucial role in both victories in 2016. Yasir misses the tour with a hip injury.
His absence means that legspinner Shadab Khan, who has established himself as one of the world’s most effective limited-overs bowlers, is poised to play his second Test. He recorded unimpressive match figures of 1 for 145 against West Indies on debut over 12 months ago, and has limited first-class experience – this Test will be only his tenth first-class game. But his figures are notable – 46 wickets, including match figures of 10 for 157 in his most recent game, Pakistan’s tour victory over Northamptonshire.
“Definitely Yasir Shah is a very experienced bowler and we miss him a lot but the good thing is Shadab Khan bowled really well in the last tour match and he got 10 wickets against Northamptonshire, so hopefully Shadab will bowl well in the Test matches as well,” Sarfraz said.
Shadab will pose a challenge to Ireland, though their captain William Porterfield believes that his side’s extensive experience against the No. 1 T20I bowler Rashid Khan – the only bowler ranked ahead of Shadab in the format – should help prepare them for that. “Whether it’s his first game or his 100th, there is now footage of him,” Porterfield said. “While not comparing the two bowlers we have come up against a very good legspinner [Rashid] over the last couple of years and we’re going to get that again this week.”
Shadab will fit into an inexperienced and somewhat experimental Pakistan line-up. Both Imam-ul-Haq and Faheem Ashraf are set to slot in as Test debutants. Imam’s tour form has won over Sami Aslam’s track record in England: he made two composed and well-received half-centuries in two Tests in England two years ago.
“We played our first match against Kent and they both played together so we saw who was playing well,” Sarfraz said. “We saw that Imam was playing better, he scored two fifties in the practice matches so that’s why we go with Imam-ul-Haq.”
Faheem’s selection is more intriguing. His ascent over the last year has been rapid, although it has been limited to only white-ball formats so far. But as an allrounder – and with Shadab’s all-round skills – he offers Pakistan some much needed flexibility and, theoretically, depth in both their batting and bowling.
Pakistan trained on a sun-kissed afternoon at Malahide, but the grey clouds that lurked nearby are, unsurprisingly for early May in Ireland, likely to be a significant factor in the game.
“Brother, that’s not just in our hands,” Sarfraz said. “It’s very difficult for both teams. If the rain stops the game it’s very bad for both teams.”
Such concerns have been a constant for Pakistan throughout their tour of the UK and Ireland so far. The weather has been too cold – Imam said that the conditions were “winter” – and too hot, but never just right.
“We tried our level best to play more cricket in the practice matches but we played two games in different weather. The first match against Kent was too cold, but the Northampton match was too hot,” Sarfraz rued. “Two days ago [it] was very cold but today it is very shiny. The last practice match was very good – everything was complete, batsmen batted well, bowlers bowled well, so we are ready to play a Test match.”