IT was three years ago on Sunday when Tim Murtagh was ripping through the England Test side to take five wickets and his place on the Lord’s honour board as the Ireland cricket team enjoyed one of their great days.

What can be forgotten is that at the other end Mark Adair, on Test debut – indeed, it was only his 12th game for Ireland – took three wickets that hot Thursday morning, including England skipper Joe Root, a feat he was to repeat in the second innings.

Adair still describes that Test as “a couple of my favourite days in cricket” but insists the games against South Africa, England, in a one-day international in Southampton the following year, and West Indies in Jamaica last January trumped the Test match “because they were wins and that’s what we are striving towards, to keep getting those wins.”

And Adair is a winner. It was hard not to be because the 26-year-old has grown up in a sporting family and while not directly competing against each other, they have driven each other on.

His dad, Ricky, is most famous for being goalkeeper at Glentoran and Ballymena, although he also played for Ulster Town at cricket and Junior Ulster at rugby.

Brother Ross, now a team-mate at both CIYMS and Northern Knights, played for Ulster at rugby and Jersey in the English championship before returning home to join the great Ballynahinch side.

Sisters Caitlin and Jordan were hockey players and even mum Joanne, a head girl at Ballyclare High, was a more than useful high jumper.

“We all grew up watching dad play, mainly rugby and cricket because I wasn’t old enough to watch him as a footballer.

Mark, the youngest sibling, had quite the choice to make but one sport was quickly ruled out.

“I had two left feet when it came to football so I played a bit of rugby, but took quite naturally to cricket. I played for Holywood Under-11s at the age of nine and opened the bowling, I remember that overlapping with the 2005 Ashes which we all watched on Channel 4.”

“I then played all NCU age groups but never played for Ireland until the Under-15s. Brian O’Rourke was the coach and I had a growth spurt that year so got a little bit quick. I was definitely one of the fastest bowlers in that group so I opened the bowling and again also opened the batting.”

The big break for Mark was as a 16-year-old when O’Rourke recommended him to Warwickshire and, after a meeting with the county’s Academy Director, he was invited over for a trial.

“I did quite well so when I finished my exams I flew over the next day and spent July and August playing Academy cricket and 2nd XI games.”

Mark’s natural sporting talent, however, forced him to make a choice.

“I was still playing rugby (he was fly-half in the Sullivan Upper side that reached the Schools Cup final) and was offered an Academy contract with Ulster. That was my first dilemma and it put a spanner in the works, forcing me to decide if I wanted to be a cricketer or a rugby player.

“I actually flipped a coin and it landed on rugby and I wanted to flip it again, so I took that as a sign I wanted it to land on cricket. I think I’ve made the right decision.”

His Warwickshire career, however, was frustrated by injury.

“I made my county debut against Somerset in the final game of the 2015 season but that’s when I got my first stress fracture. I came back in May the following year, played in the T20 team which was good, for five or six games and then went down with another stress fracture in my back. I was asking myself ‘what more do I have to do to stay fit?” I eventually had an operation in October 2017 and there is now a screw in there.”

It was at that stage, though, that Warwickshire took the decision not to renew Adair’s contract.

I wasn’t playing enough cricket and they thought I wasn’t mature enough. I didn’t understand it at the time but certainly understand it now, which is always the way, so from a business point I was released. But I’m very lucky to get a second chance to play professional cricket so I don’t take it for granted anymore.

“You never know when your last game is and, of course, you could be in an office rather than travelling the world playing a game of cricket with your mates.”

Mark was in Malahide as a net bowler in May 2019, just ahead of the ODI against England when his luck changed. Stuart Thompson was injured on the eve of the match and Adair got the call to make his Ireland debut.

“I did all right,” is his modest memory of the match. He didn’t take a wicket but smoked 32 off 30 against an attack which included Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid and, three years and three months on, Friday’s third T20 international against New Zealand was Adair’s 71st game, out of a possible 87. He had already scored more than 500 runs, mainly from No 8 or 9, and is three away from a century of wickets

Next up for Adair is a return to inter-provincial action when he will lead the Knights into this week’s T20 festival in Pembroke, starting on Wednesday, but already all eyes are turning towards the T20 World Cup in Australia where Ireland must get past at least two of West Indies, Zimbabwe and Scotland to reach the Super 12 stage of the tournament.

“We match up pretty well against Zimbabwe and Scotland and it’s just a case of performing on the day. We’ve still plenty of T20 games before then and despite the results against New Zealand last week we’re not a million miles away from where we want to be.

Certainly no-one will be trying harder to win than Mark Adair.