MURTAGH ON MURTAGH
England 85 all out (Tim Murtagh 5-13) Lord’s, 24th June 2019
The Edrich Stand was full of Murtaghs. That is not entirely true but not many in the family were going to miss Tim playing in a Test match at Lord’s. The irony – even more delicious the more you thought about it – was that Tim, playing for Ireland, would be changing in the away dressing room instead of his usual spot in the home dressing room, when he played for Middlesex. However, in the midst of the family gathering, there were two empty seats. They were meant to be occupied by me and my wife but we were late. The previous evening, on her way home from work, Lin had been involved in a nasty car crash. Thankfully, apart from shock and a few bruises, she was unhurt, though the car, driven into by a Dutchman who was on the wrong side of the road, was a write-off. Having got hold of a replacement vehicle and waded through reams of bureaucratic paperwork for temporary insurance, we set off from Worcestershire too late to arrive in time for the first session of play, let alone the first ball. But that was all right; we could listen to the ball-by-ball commentary on Test Match Special for Ireland’s first Test in England at the home of cricket.
Except we couldn’t. To my intense annoyance and frustration, I could not get the radio to work. We reached St John’s Wood at lunch time and by the time we had entered the ground and taken our seats, the afternoon session was well under way. Ireland were batting I noticed. They hadn’t scored many runs. It must have been tedious watching. “What’s happened?” I asked my son-in-law. “Nothing much,” he smirked.
Nothing much! It’s not every day of the week that your nephew plays in a Test match at Lord’s (it’s never happened). It’s not every day of the week that he takes five wickets before lunch on the first day of a Test match (it’s never happened). And it’s not every day of the week that England are dismissed before
lunch on the first day of a Lord’s Test (it’s never happened). Well, it has now. On 24th June 2019, England were bowled out for 85 in 23 overs, Tim Murtagh taking 5-13, all ten wickets falling before the first Champagne pop.
When he was growing up and our two families were spending months at a time on holiday in France, playing endless games of cricket on the beach, would I have spotted a putative Test cricketer among our four young lads? I have to confess, probably not. He had an odd run-up, arms flapping alongside, a bit like a duck taking to the air. But he had a simple and economical action that never changed and being a tall lad, he made the wet tennis ball bounce off the flattened sand. Perhaps intrigued French sunbathers were more perceptive than me. “Oooh la la, ma cherie, regarde cette future star!” In point of fact, the received wisdom was that his younger brother, Chris, was the more likely first-class cricketer, a wonderful batsman with natural timing and elegant strokeplay. It is another irony – this one sad rather than delicious – that Chris’s final innings in his stop-start career at Surrey was against Middlesex. He was bowled for a duck…..yes, by his brother. Tim celebrated wildly before the realisation dawned what he had just done. He covered his face with his hands, not knowing quite what to feel.
Tim too had started his career at Surrey but then crossed the river to join the Daggers, as we used to call Middlesex. The reason was simple. Lord’s was a better wicket to bowl on. The Oval pitches were a batsman’s paradise and often the county would go with two spinners at the expense of a seamer, so Tim’s opportunities were limited. It proved to be a shrewd move. Simon Hughes for his dream attack at Lord’s not so long ago chose Glenn McGrath from the Pavilion End and Tim Murtagh from the Nursery End and Mike Selvey, who knew a thing or two about using the slope to best advantage, once wrote a nice letter to Tim, congratulating him on his bowling at the Nursery End, with the slope falling away on to the off-side, something a lot of bowlers find disconcerting.
If it was Middlesex that provided Tim with his bread and butter (and plenty of jam, it has to be said), it was Ireland that gave him the chance to shine on the big stage. His Irish credentials are bona fide, let me assure you. Both my parents were Irish. My mother was a committed tennis player and my father, though a more than useful footballer in the Isthmian League, knew nothing about cricket. My brother, Dom, Tim’s dad, and I taught ourselves the game by playing timeless Tests in the garden when we were kids. Tim and Chris were brought up in a cricket-mad environment. The back garden was concreted over for cricket and if it rained, the games would move indoors. I am still dumbfounded at their parents’ good-natured acceptance of a hallway marked, chipped and battered by balls flying off the bat.
The oldest MP in the Commons is given the courtesy title of ‘Father of the House’. Before he was forced by new ECB regulations to give up playing for Ireland, Tim was for a while the oldest Test cricketer currently playing. This earned him the courtesy title within the Murtagh family of ‘Grandad’. He is still trundling in from the Nursery End for Middlesex and is still taking wickets in this, his fourth decade in county cricket. Not many players in the modern game have been so durable, even more remarkable given that he is a seam bowler. He attributes his
longevity to a monastic lifestyle, which simly underlines his sense of humour. “A chip off the old block,” former team-mates of mine who have become umpires tell me. I have to put them right; he is no chip off my block.
My wife and I might have missed Tim’s five wickets in the morning but we did not miss his hilarious innings of 16 later that same day, four heaves over cow corner, all executed from a guard adjacent to the square-leg umpire. Nor shall we forget the loud, boisterous, amusing Oirish supporters. “Begorrah” shouted one, dressed as a green leprochaun, at a member attired in the full MCC regalia, “Oi tort de MCC banned fancy dress!”