The great sportswriter Martin Johnson once summed up a disastrous pre-Ashes performance in one sentence. “There are only three things wrong with this England team,” he wrote, “They can't bat, can't bowl, and can't field.”

That devastating phrase came to mind more than once this past fortnight as Ireland limped their way through a series of enormous defeats in Bangladesh. Of course, Johnson was going for a good line instead of analysis – Mike Gatting’s side eventually won that series – and with a couple of exceptions this is as good a side as Ireland can put in the field.

But even with the impressive win on Friday, there is no denying that the wheels have started to come off a side that had some excellent results last year, beating West Indies three times and eventual winners England at the T20 World Cup.

Bangladesh are strong opponents, winning four out of six against England recently, and on their home turf they are almost unplayable. Like all Asian sides they have a good hand of spinners, but they have added three pacy seamers to their side and look a match for most sides. They could go far in the World Cup this autumn.

And now the tour turns to the most unforgiving format – the Test match, the first Ireland have played in almost four years. For the five-dayer in Mirpur Ireland have brought a 15-man squad who between them have played just 40 first-class games since that Lord’s test in June 2019. One, recent recruit Peter Moor, played 14 of them in his native Zimbabwe.

Moor was playing red-ball games as recently as January, but you have to go back to February two years ago for the last time any other player in the squad donned the whites. There’s undercooked and there’s raw. And there’s your dinner still walking around the field chewing cud.

Covid takes some of the blame for this, of course, but not all – England have played 49 Tests in the same time span. Cricket Ireland’s decision to stop playing the three-day interpros in 2019, and suspend the Wolves programme, has left several players entirely devoid of experience in this format.

And that’s where the problem is going to arise in this Test and the two that follow in Sri Lanka. In almost 150 years, just 34 men have made their first-class debut in a Test, almost all in the 19th century. Since 1900, in 2,500 matches, there have been just six – and there could be three more on Tuesday in Mirpur, with Matthew Humphreys, Tom Mayes and Ben White yet to play even one three-dayer in their careers.

Because it’s so long since Ireland last played it is almost impossible to gauge what the selectors are thinking, and more than half the 17 who played a Test to date have since retired anyway. Test experience is in short supply, with just 18 caps between the squad, half of them won by Moor when playing for Zimbabwe.

We can be relieved that the captain is back after a week in service to the new vogue of ‘resting’ players. Paul Stirling heads to Vietnam on holiday this week.

 “I think Test cricket is the purest form of the game”, says Balbirnie. “I grew up putting on a pair of whites, getting white pads out and going out and hitting a red ball. A lot of my cricket education was in red ball cricket over in England, playing a lot of second team cricket with Middlesex, and then a handful of games in the first team.

 “However, many in this group of players we have now were never exposed to that. A couple of them were, but not many. They were brought up on white ball cricket. So it certainly is different for us, but a lot of the best test matches that were played around the world in the last year are still, in my opinion, the most exciting parts of cricket.”

The pitches at the Shere Bangla Stadium have taken sharp spin in recent years and Ireland’s seamers will continue their tough tour. Andrew McBrine will surely come back into the spinning role, and with George Dockrell unused in the white ball games it looks like fiery baptisms for White and Humphreys. There should also be Test debuts for Lorcan Tucker, Graham Hume, Harry Tector and Moor.

CricketEurope columnist Barry Chambers wrote recently that since the start of 2021 Ireland have played 72 days cricket (an average of three days a month), when England have played 234, India 226 and West Indies 187. Our players and coaches also took part in around a dozen domestic one-day games a season. It all seems very ill-considered and, with budgets slashed all over Cricket Ireland, wasteful and entirely self-serving.

Balbirnie is a steely character and will marshal his team to give their best next week, but the failure to give them the best preparation will surely cost them.

IRELAND (possible) A Balbirnie (capt), PJ Moor, H Tector, J McCollum, L Tucker, G Dockrell, A McBrine, M Adair, M Humphreys, G Hume, B White. Reserves: M Commins, C Campher, F Hand, T Mayes.