'Dig deep' - Ireland must take the lead from No. 11 hero Tim Murtagh

Tim Murtagh raises his bat after reaching fifty AFP

It happened over a game of touch rugby. Ireland were in Dubai in 2015, preparing for the upcoming World Cup. They began this particular training session with a quick game of touch rugby when Tim Murtagh went over on his right foot. He heard something right away. He tried to, but couldn't place any weight on his foot. He didn't need X-rays to tell him that his dream of representing Ireland in a World Cup was over. The scan's results were mere details: he had broken the metatarsal on his right foot.

"Definitely that's my biggest regret in my career, getting injured just before that tournament," Murtagh said. "Such a big tournament, boys had a great time and got some good results there. It was pretty devastating."

The doctors put a screw in, and put him back on the park, but soon enough the ICC dealt him the double blow by reducing the 2019 World Cup to ten teams; even West Indies had to go through qualification. Murtagh is closing in on 38; he knows there isn't a World Cup left for him.

"We are going to have to scrap in the morning and pick up as many early wickets as we can and try and restrict them to as few as we can in the first innings because 170 in the first innings in not ideal" TIM MURTAGH

Murtagh is your typical county pro, who turns up and bowls his steady and accurate medium pace day in, day out. He is unassuming. He says you haven't seen his batting if, after his unbeaten half-century on the first afternoon kept Ireland alive in their second-ever Test, against Afghanistan in Dehradun, you are wondering why he is at No. 11.

In a way, Murtagh is the quintessential nine-to-five pro, but he does so because he loves the sport and because he doesn't want the nine-to-five job outside cricket. That's what has kept him going. If you keep going, sometimes the sport can make up for the injustices.

"It was devastating to miss the World Cup but if you had said to me I would get the chance to play a few Test matches then I would have bitten your hand off," Murtagh said. "When I first started to play for Ireland, it didn't look possible at all. So that first one was a dream and then to play another here, then to have one at Lord's against England in July, is beyond my wildest expectation really."

Murtagh has now bowled the first ball in Test cricket for Ireland, he has hit their first six, but has most importantly scored a fifty from No. 11 and taken part in a last-wicket partnership that is among the top-five contributions to a team's total in terms of percentage. It was an absolutely crucial innings that came at a time when, once again, Ireland would have started feeling that the knives were being sharpened. As was the case with their first innings in Malahide against Pakistan in their maiden Test where they were bowled out for 130 in their first innings.

Malahaide, though, was difficult conditions against a top-quality seam attack. Here they had won the toss on a pitch not likely to be fun in the last innings. They had gotten off to a good start with Paul Stirling even fancying some driving on the up against the new ball. They raced away to 37 in 5.1 overs, and then Afghanistan corrected themselves. They bowled tighter lines, strung together 20 dots, and then Stirling had a poke at a wide ball to begin a glut of wickets.

Within an hour, they had gone from the possibility of taking decisive advantage on the first morning to having their No. 11 padded up before lunch. There were some soft shots possibly after the start they had been given. This was, as they later realised, the only time batting was going to be difficult in the first innings. Get through to lunch two or three down, and you could bat the opposition out. The pitch was a little damp, which gave the spinners some bite. Still it can be okay to get out to a deadly accurate wrong'un from Rashid Khan first ball but not a full toss two balls later.

All sorts of records were under threat at one point, including the lowest total in India, and this not on a raging bunsen or in crazy seaming conditions where India scored 76 against South Africa in Ahmedabad. Murtagh joined George Dockrell at 85 for 9, having not scored a run this year. He felt good about it today, though, and dug in. The turn was now slow, giving them time to adjust. Still it took discipline not typical of a No. 11 to hang in for as long as he did. Murtagh picked the right balls to hit, giving Ireland their first two sixes in Test cricket.

That the advantage had been given away was apparent from how it turned even more slowly when Afghanistan came out to bat. Ireland know they need to put a squeeze on to restrict Afghanistan's lead in the first innings, to make them bat last on a pitch that is bound to make chasing difficult.

"We would have been hoping to get 250-plus on that pitch," Murtagh said. "Knowing that it has had a lot of cricket during the course of the T20s and ODI series, knowing that we weren't going to bat last, it was definitely an advantage. We have given that back to them a little bit there. We are going to have to scrap now. We are going to have to scrap in the morning and pick up as many early wickets as we can and try and restrict them to as few as we can in the first innings because 170 in the first innings in not ideal.

"We have got to dig deep and sort of relive that spirit in Malahide where we came back well in the second innings and scored a good score there. When it is our turn to bat again, I think it is obviously going to be tricky but we are going to have to dig deep and show that same spirit."

There is no choice but to reprise that kind of revival because chances for these teams come sparingly. Murtagh himself knows he is in the final stages of his career, but he is enjoying this time more than "any stage of my career". There is no World Cup in sight, but there is still at least a Test and a half to make the most of. That half is still theirs to revive.