Ireland-Pakistan Test revives World Cup memories

Ireland's William Porterfield, left, and Pakistan's Sarfraz Ahmed pose with the trophy after the press conference at Malahide Cricket Club, Malahide, Ireland on May 10, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 May 2018
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Ireland-Pakistan Test revives World Cup memories

  • Ireland knocked Pakistan out of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean with a stunning three-wicket win in Jamaica
  • Ireland will not be a part of next year's World Cup after missing out in a 10-team qualifying tournament where only Afghanistan and the West Indies made it through to the finals

DUBLIN: Ireland will be huge underdogs when they face Pakistan in their inaugural men's Test match at Malahide on Friday.
But several members of their squad already know what it's like to cause a huge upset against Pakistan, having played in the Ireland side that knocked the Asian giants out of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean with a stunning three-wicket win in Jamaica.
It was the stuff of fairytales with Ireland, a team of part-timers containing school teachers, farmers and postmen defeating the Asian giants -- and on St Patrick's Day as well.
One of the few green-tinged pitches in the West Indies, and thereby reminiscent of surfaces at home in Ireland, was matched by fans wearing Irish green shirts in a jubilant crowd at Kingston's Sabina Park.
The fairytale soon became a nightmare, however, when Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer, the former England batsman who in his previous development role with the International Cricket Council had done much to raise the standard of non-Test nations, was found dead in his hotel room the next morning.
Ireland dismissed Pakistan for a meagre 132 with fast bowler Boyd Rankin -- set to be involved in the Test -- taking three wickets.
Ireland were soon 15 for two before an innings of 72 from Niall O'Brien, also in the Test squad, got them back on track before now-retired captain Trent Johnston won the match with a six off Azhar Mahmood.
"It was the start of something special," Johnston told The42.ie website. "The start of an amazing journey and a day when the rest of the world sat up and took notice of us as a cricketing nation."
Ireland's victory came just 48 hours after they had exceeded many people's expectations by playing out a tie with another Test side in Zimbabwe.
"I was lucky I won that toss," said Johnston, who was also rightly proud of the "bloody good cricket," Ireland played against Pakistan.
"We were a bunch of amateurs going to a World Cup and we had absolutely nothing to lose," he added.
Irish joy was quickly tempered by widespread mourning for Woolmer, whose sudden death gave rise to a host of wild conspiracy theories.
Although no one knew it at the time, Ireland's win perversely damaged the cause of aspiring cricket nations.
Pakistan and arch-rivals India were both knocked out in the first round, a huge blow to organisers banking on their fans to pack out grounds later on, as well as broadcasters who had paid heavily for television rights in the subcontinent.
The ICC, as much a club for its leading members as a global governing body, soon decided a repeat had to be avoided at all costs.
That outlook has led to next year's World Cup in England being shrunk to a 10-team event, with an all-play-all group stage.
Ireland, however, will not be there after missing out in a 10-team qualifying tournament where only Afghanistan and the West Indies made it through to the finals.


Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

Updated 18 November 2018
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Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

LONDON: Jaka Ihbeisheh’s eyes glisten as he recalls the moment his father first watched him play for Palestine. While the midfielder’s path to the national team may have been unconventional, those feelings of pride on his debut were wholly natural. From western Yugoslavia to the West Bank, Ihbeisheh’s journey was fueled by a desire to rediscover his roots.
Ihbeisheh was born in Ljubljana in 1986 to a Slovenian mother and a Palestinian father, who met while the latter was studying medicine in Croatia. His parents separated when he was seven years old, however, and his father moved back to Palestine.
It would be 18 years before he saw his father again.
An early love of football developed into a career for Ihbeisheh, who played for a number of Slovenian clubs. But while he lived out his childhood dream professionally, in his personal life there remained a nagging question about the whereabouts of his father.


In 2013, Ihbeisheh finally decided to try to reach out to the man from whom he had been estranged for three quarters of his life.
“After getting married, I started to question more where I was from and what my father had been doing,” Ihbeisheh explained. “We still had an envelope at home with an address on it so I decided to write a letter to him asking him if he wanted to meet me.
“I wrote three letters — in Slovenian, Croatian and English — and to be honest I had no idea if I would receive a reply.”
A month passed by with no response but then one day Ihbeisheh opened his Facebook account to see a friend request from someone whose name was written in Arabic.
“It was a strange moment after all those years but the date of birth matched my father’s so I knew it was him. We started to talk on Skype first, in Croatian. I was amazed he could remember but he said that because he studied medicine in the language he had never forgotten it. He still used Croatian medical textbooks.

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh in action for Slovenian side Rudar Velenje. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


“After a few calls, my wife and I decided the time was right to go and visit him in Palestine. A lot of people said things like, ‘Don’t go there you are crazy, you will get shot’ — but my father lived there and I wanted to go and visit him. I was not afraid.”
That first trip was fraught with nervous excitement as Ihbeisheh made his way to his father’s homeland via his aunt’s house in Jordan. The midfielder had read and heard about the potential difficulties of the crossing into Palestine and his own passage was not straightforward.
“The security at the border was very heavy and when they asked me where I was going, I said Palestine. He said, ‘No, to Israel’ and I said, ‘No, Palestine’. Then he separated me and my wife and a soldier came and took me into a room to ask a lot of questions.
“They asked about my life, my father, my work, my wife. They went on Wikipedia to check if I really was a Slovenian professional footballer. Then they called my wife inside — they were checking our stories matched. They asked my wife the name of my coach and fortunately she knew it. We were there for five hours in all.”
For Ihbeisheh it was glimpse into the border woes that are a regular part of life for Palestinians, though happier experiences were to come.


“When we got off the bus, my father and all his family were there waiting and it was very emotional. Of course, we had a big meal to celebrate.
“After that trip, I knew that if the opportunity came up I would want to play international football for Palestine. My father didn’t need to say anything for me to know how much it would mean to him.”
When Ihbeisheh returned to Slovenia, the thought of playing for Palestine was still on his mind but he had no idea how to put the wheels in motion. Then a fortuitous meeting with a Palestinian diplomat’s son opened the door. Six months later, Ihbeisheh received a text inviting him to be involved with the squad for the first time.
“My first game was a friendly in Dubai ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup and it was an amazing day. When the national anthem played, I was so proud. You meet the other players and hear their stories, then you understand why it means so much to represent Palestine.
“Since then I have come to play every time they call me. I love being part of this team.”

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh meeting hero Xavi, and on the sidelines of a Rudar Velenje game. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


Ihbeisheh went on to make a major impact at the Asian Cup in Australia, becoming the first Palestinian player to score at a major international tournament in a 5-1 defeat to Jordan.


But while that was a moment to savour, it paled in comparison to the first game he played in Palestine.
“It is a totally different occasion playing in Palestine. Everyone is supporting their country and they make incredible noise, they want to take pictures with us. We feel like heroes. It’s a shame that our home games are often moved away from our land and our people — I hope this stops.
“My first game there was a 0-0 draw with UAE in (the West Bank town) Al-Ram and of course it was the first time my father saw me play in Palestine. This was an emotional moment for him and for me. He said, ‘I was really proud to see you play but I am proud even when you are not playing. You are always representing your country.’
“The more I am called up to play for Palestine, the more I see him so, for us, football has an important meaning.”
That sentiment is true for many in Palestine, for whom football offers a temporary escape from difficult lives. Palestine may often appear to be a byword for conflict but Ihbeisheh has found the opposite to be true, the country uniting him with both his father and his heritage.
“I feel really sad about some of the things I hear, some of the experience my friends and family have. It is difficult to imagine for people like me who have always lived in Europe. You just hear the things on TV or radio but it is not the same as when my teammates tell me their stories.
“What each of them has gone through, and achieved, to play football for Palestine is inspirational. They know how football can help to give the supporters something, for a little bit of time they forget about all the worries. This is important to them, and me.
“I may not come from Palestine but when we are together as team-mates, there is no difference if you have lived your whole life in Palestine or outside of Palestine. We are all the same, we are family.”