David Townsend, October 2015
Ten years ago this week, I was able to play a role in helping Ireland to beat Kenya and win the InterContinental Cup for the first time. According to one recent report, reprinted here on CricketEurope, my suggestion to Trent Johnston that he should declare behind in the final has gone down in "Irish cricket folklore".
Unfortunately, like much folklore, the retelling of the tale has taken on a life of its own. There were no discussions over late night drinks and the declaration was nothing to do with Ireland not wanting to lose wickets, so perhaps the tenth anniversary is a good time to record what actually happened that day in Namibia:
The three-day IC Cup final was heading for a draw, which would have given Kenya the title. The first four sessions of the game, on a very good batting track at the Wanderers in Windhoek, were entirely predictable. Boring even. Kenya won the toss and made 401-4 in their maximum 90 overs, Ireland had begun their reply strongly. Everyone was expecting Kenya to then bat through the final day and lift the trophy.
Before lunch on that second day, I was chatting to the late John Wright, the Irish Cricket Union secretary, who was managing the squad. John mentioned that after winning the IC Cup, Kenya were planning to press the ICC to elevate them to Full Membership and Test match status - it was, after all, only two years since the Africans had reached the semi-finals of the World Cup.
A little bell rang at the back of my head and an idea started to take shape.
Towards the end of the lunch interval, I found the new Ireland captain and said: "You're going to have to declare behind here, skipper."
"Why would I want to do that, DT?"
"Well, you're not going to win this the way things are going..."
"Agreed," Trent said. "But how is declaring behind going to help?"
"Throw down a challenge. Try to get them to set you a run chase on the final afternoon - no matter how difficult - it's the only way you have a chance of winning."
"Why would they want to do that? Why would they even give us a sniff?"
"Because Kenya have come down here to show the ICC that they are ready to play Test cricket. What's it going to look like if they are frightened to take on Ireland?
Tell them: 'You think you're ready to play Australia and South Africa - but you're scared to have a game of cricket with Ireland?'
"You might have to get into their ears a bit - explain why the ICC aren't going to be impressed."
Trent grinned: "I think we can do that alright!"
He strode off around the boundary to speak to coach Adi Birrell and returned 15 minutes later to tell me with another big grin: "Operation Townsend is underway!"
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Trent clapped his hands with Ireland on 313-4 - 88 runs behind - and such was the element of surprise that both the Kenyans and the umpires remained on the field for several minutes, not realising that Ireland had declared. The Kenyan 12th man brought out drinks. It was almost comical.
The confusion continued and deepened as one of the Kenya openers had been off the field having a rest at the time of the declaration and was therefore unable to open.
The African side lost three wickets that evening and realised that their guaranteed draw had been blown wide open. From being overwhelming favourites, they turned up the following day not knowing whether to stick or twist; did they try to block it out or set a target. No surprise that Niall O'Brien behind the stumps was quite vocal. Captain Steve Tikolo, one of the two best batsmen never to play Test cricket, was disorientated to the point of being out "hit wicket" (although it went in the book as "bowled Kyle McCallan") as his side fell between two stools and collapsed to 156 all out.
As Ireland knocked off the 245 to win for the loss of four wickets, Kenya's coach Mudassar Nazar, the former Pakistan allrounder, stumbled around muttering "Unbelievable declaration! Unbelievable!"
It was an unbelievable declaration. The genius, of course, was not so much the idea or the timing of it, but that an international cricket captain would take the trouble to listen to a journalist, never mind act upon his suggestion. But that's Trent Johnston for you. It's also the mark of the man that not once did he try to take any credit for the declaration - even name checking me in his book Raiders of the Caribbean, two years later.
After lifting the trophy, Trent put an arm around my shoulder and said: "I'm always going to love you for that, big fella."
Ten years on, the feeling is still mutual.