Roderick Easdale: Tim Murtagh’s slow way to success


Tim Murtagh runs in to bowl from a distant point disproportionate to the speed he generates with the ball. Shortly after he starts off he veers out, as though fearful of reaching the crease too soon – or maybe at all – so takes the delaying, long route there. He crouches as he runs before, a few paces shy of the crease, he straightens and some days seems to slow down as though buffeted back by a sudden gust of wind.

When I first saw him bowl, I thought he was about to slow to a stop here, as though he had lost his run up or, indeed, really was too fearful to deliver the ball. Instead he carries on to the crease, almost wearily, as if saying to himself ‘well I’ve come all this way so I might as well go through with it,’ to deliver the ball on an immaculate length.

He is in his 38th summer, the past 16 of which have been spent running in at Lord’s. Before that it was at The Oval, but rarely hence why this Lambeth-born, London-bred man switched London counties.

Once upon a time, when selections were more imaginative, and haphazard, England would call up a bowler as a Headingley specialist, one who they wouldn’t pick ordinarily, but who was expected to be handful in Leeds. (That fashion has now passed: Darren Pattinson rather put paid to it, a selection reminiscent of many fantasy-league picks – “I don’t know who he is, but his stats are good”.)

There was never a fashion to pick a Lord’s specialist. If there was, Murtagh would be it.

Before the Ireland test at Lord’s, he had delivered 2,327.5 overs at the home of cricket taking 296 wickets at an average of 23.62 and a strike rate of 47.1. Although somehow ‘strike rate’; seems inappropriate for batsmen are not struck out by Murtagh but teased out by a practitioner confident in his craft.

His record at Lord’s is better than elsewhere but only by a wee bit: he entered the Lord’s test with a first-class record of 800 wickets at 25.33. By way of comparison, Jimmy Anderson has 950 at 24.97.

But the England selectors have never been minded to pick Murtagh. Simply not quick enough old boy.

Several counties have a player like Murtagh, the ultra-dependable bowler of no great pace who will trundle in and take stacks of wickets season after season but who will remain invisible to the selectors even when they are filleting the rest of their county attack for England duty.

Steve Patterson, described by Darren Gough, when his captain at Yorkshire, as ’the first name on the team sheet’ is one such; Durham’s Chris Rushworth, closing in on 500 wickets at an average of under 23, is another.

But then, one winter in a tapas bar in Clapham, Ed Joyce, once of Middlesex and England, by now of Sussex and Ireland, asked Tim where his Irish surname came from. The answer was Ireland.

Grandparents born in Dublin enabled their Londoner grandson Tim to play for Ireland.

Fast forward eight years and Ed Joyce is ringing the five-minute bell on the first day of Ireland’s first test match at the home of cricket. Five minutes later, Tim Murtagh delivers the first ball. A few minutes later a 74mph delivery from him has England’s debutant opener caught at slip.

When lunch comes, Murtagh walks off at the head of his team, acknowledging the applause for figures of 5-13 in England’s all out 85. He is the first Irish player to take a five-for in tests. His place is secured for ever on the honours board in that unfamiliar away dressing room.

Across the land, a host of fine county trundlers past and present were also silently applauding. Murtagh had been given the chance they never had and he had honoured them all.


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