Ger Siggins (CricketEurope)
“Do They Play Cricket in Ireland?” by David Townsend (Pitch Publishing, £16.99)
David Townsend is as Irish as sushi, but it hasn’t stopped him becoming one of that country’s leading cricket writers.
This book’s title is one of those ‘taxi man lines’ that reporters are fond of using, but it could easily have been one of Townsend’s own in the early 1990s. Besides a vague memory of bowling the West Indies out for 25, his knowledge of Irish cricket was scant.
But he took up a friend’s suggestion that he try to pick up a bit of freelance work at the ICC Trophy in Nairobi in 1994. It happened to be Ireland’s first appearance in that event and no Irish newspapers were sending reporters in those days. Townsend cashed in, enjoyed what he saw and decided to keep in touch.
It led to further excursions around the world as Ireland began a slow climb into the game’s upper echelons. The book is strong on local colour but there is plenty of cricket too.
His finest hour, and major contribution to his new friends, came in Windhoek in 2005. Ireland’s Intercontinental Cup game with Kenya was on course for a stale draw when Townsend suggested to Trent Johnston that Ireland declare behind.
Kenya had applied for Test status and Townsend reckoned they would have to respond to the challenge rather than be seen to be afraid of losing to the Irish.
Johnston was convinced and duly declared 88 behind, which stunned the Kenyans – even the umpires didn’t know what was going on and remained on the field. The Africans lost three quick wickets and next day were bowled out for 156, and Ireland won by four wickets.
It was a stroke of genius – and one endlessly retold here – which guarantees him a footnote in future volumes of Irish cricket history. Which this isn’t, to be fair.
What it is, is a rollickingly well-told tale of one of modern cricket’s most amazing stories. A bunch of teachers, salesmen and a sprinkling of pros going to the 2007 World Cup and knocking out Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
Further glories followed, none better than beating England in 2011, before ICC eventually conceded that Ireland was worthy of full membership. The book ends on a happy note, not with Ireland’s inaugural Test against Pakistan in 2018, but their third, a year later, at Lord’s Ground.
Townsend chooses to end the book with Tim Murtagh strolling up the steps of the Pavilion mulling what he will have for dessert having bowled England out for 85 and got his name on the honours board at the ground where he played for more than a decade.
“We had worried privately that one side in this Test might have their inadequacies sharply exposed and be rolled in an embarrassing heap – we had not for one minute considered that side would be England.”
That game, of course, ended in ignominious defeat for Ireland but the story was already over by then.