This was a game to savour – unlike its predecessors. A brilliant run chase, masterminded by Ireland’s captain and vice-captain, Andy Balbirnie and Paul Stirling, centurions both, produced a stunning victory by seven wickets with one ball to spare. The target of 329 was one more than was required in the epic Ireland win in Bangalore in the World Cup in 2011. But in some ways this victory was more unlikely given the frailty of the Irish batting in the first two games.
Here the senior men, Middlesex mates, came to the fore in a partnership of 214, which sealed the match and tormented England’s captain on the field. After Eoin Morgan had struck a century earlier in the day he was unable to take charge during the Irish innings because of “tightness in the groin”. So Moeen Ali took over, an experience that he may not remember with undiluted joy. On one occasion he yielded a no-ball as there were not enough fielders inside the ring.
Stirling peppered the square boundaries from the start in his idiosyncratic style, creating width when there appeared to be none. He also calculated where to aim his sixes, namely to the shorter leg-side boundary, which Adil Rashid was defending in his first five overs. It may have been a mistake to use Rashid, the best trump card, at that end since Stirling cleared that boundary three times against him. Along the way Stirling gave two very tough chances to James Vince. Meanwhile Balbirnie paced his innings superbly; his strikes were not so violent yet he scored almost as quickly as his partner, expertly minimising risks, hitting the gaps.
The only way this pair could be parted was via a run-out when Stirling was (correctly) sent back. Balbirnie soon holed out in Rashid’s last over but then the young and old, Harry Tector and the hero of Bangalore, Kevin O’Brien, took over. They needed eight runs from the final over from Saqib Mahmood and a high full toss, given as a no-ball, sealed England’s fate. After the drab fare on the previous two games this was a terrific climax, except for the England camp.
England’s innings was another helter-skelter affair, betraying the fact that some of the batsmen feel as if it’s still early April while others are in mid-season form. Jason Roy is in the first category and was caught at second slip in Craig Young’s first over; Jonny Bairstow was in the second on Saturday but here he swung and missed against Mark Adair.
However, a more significant failure came from Vince, who may have to return to the sidelines after another exasperating innings; there was one more sublime cover drive and then he fell again in an odd fashion, this time to an inside edge off Young. Morgan soon put a stop to this nonsense. He timed the ball from the start and once again was the living embodiment of England’s approach – no matter what the situation, attack. Ireland peppered him with bouncers too often; he can be vulnerable to such deliveries but here they came too frequently and too slowly, usually from Josh Little. Morgan latched on to them eagerly; sometimes they landed among the bucket seats, which may have accounted for Ireland’s slow over rate.
Morgan completed his 14th ODI century from just 78 balls to restore order but after he had sliced a drive to backward point the innings stuttered badly. Alongside Morgan, Tom Banton played his best innings for England so far, 58 from 51 balls. There were strokes of surprising power off the back foot and some thumping drives. He makes it look so easy that he leaves you waiting more. He soon followed Morgan back to the pavilion when surprised by a skidding leg break from Gareth Delany, a good option explored by Balbirnie. But this was an advance for Banton.
Moeen is one of the batsmen in early April mode. Here he scrambled a rushed single and then a leading edge from a shortish delivery lobbed to extra cover.
Suddenly batting has become an alien occupation for him. We assume he is in poor form but he hasn’t really been at the crease long enough for us – or him – to be sure. Then the emphatically in form Sam Billings was caught at mid-on and England had lost four wickets for 26.
David Willey is doing his best to make himself an indispensable cricketer in this series. He was soon striking the ball with power and authority in his second ODI fifty from just 42 balls. With Tom Curran a dependable ally England recovered to 328. It should have been enough. It wasn’t.