It’s been eight years and more than 200 innings since Tim Murtagh scored his last fifty in any form of cricket, but yesterday he picked his moment to show why he was once known as the Lambeth Lara.

With Ireland facing humiliation on 85 for 9 in the only Test against Afghanistan, the Middlesex seamer strolled to the middle of the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Dehradun. Twenty overs later he walked back undefeated, having more than doubled the Ireland total in partnership with George Dockrell, who made 39.

It was only the 11th time a number 11 has top-scored in a Test match, only three of whom scored more than Murtagh’s 54. His innings was also the 11th highest by a number 11. Feeling lucky, he then rushed from the field to stick 11,000 rupees at 11/1 on the No.11 horse in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. I made that last bit up, but perhaps he should have.

Murtagh has always shown glimpses that he might be better batsman than his record shows, but in 87 caps for Ireland he had never made more than 23no. Yesterday he made the highest score by an Irish No.11, beating Paul McCrum’s 44no in 1997.

To crown it all, he hit Ireland’s first and second sixes in Test cricket.

“Considering I’ve faced three balls in 2019 and been out twice without scoring a run, just to get 1 run today was the first target. We needed a partnership towards the end there so it was crucial that George and I get our heads down and get some runs.”

Were there any demons in the pitch?, he was asked.

“The lads thought there was. I didn’t”, he grinned.

“It was a little bit tacky this morning so maybe it spun a bit more in the first session than when it dried out later. There’s not much pace and bounce in it so it’s going to get lower and slower as the game goes on.”

On a previously-used pitch, the toss was crucial, and William Porterfield called correctly. His side was as expected besides the preference for Stuart Thompson, an all-rounder, instead of the pace of Boyd Rankin.

Porterfield played second fiddle to Paul Stirling who looked in blistering form in racing to 26. But it has been over six months since Stirling faced a red ball and he failed to row back his aggression. That promising opening stand of 37 only preceded a stunning collapse when eight wickets fell for 32 runs, most to loose shots.

Andrew Balbirnie was eager to leave his Test debut pair behind but after one nervy scoring shot he was bowled through the gate, exposing the raw middle order. Rashid Khan took two debutant scalps with his first three balls, bowling James McCollum with the googly and trapping Stuart Poynter with a full toss.

Kevin O’Brien stuck around for 12 – and may count himself unlucky – but it wasn’t until Dockrell and Murtagh came together that Ireland looked comfortable.

Afghanistan’s batters were unadventurous and didn’t look like losing a wicket until James Cameron-Dow’s erratic left-arm spin picked up two good wickets to leave them on 90 for two at the close.

“It’s bound to misbehave a bit on days 2, 3, 4 and 5”, said Murtagh, perhaps over-estimating the likely duration of the game. “Our main target tomorrow will be to get it to reverse but the seamers will just bowl as straight as we can and play a supporting role for the spinners.”