Well, the pre-match heat was turned on when the Irish skipper appeared at a Press conference in purple hair claiming that his team was raring to go against the old enemies, the English. After the bashing the minnows have received in general, and especially after the Irish choked while chasing a paltry 205 against Bangladesh, the unofficial minnows, most looked down at these comments with a benevolent air of patronization. Little did they know that the words would be so prophetic!
England batted first and put up a more than decent score of 328 in their allotted 50 overs, in course of which Jonathan Trott trotted to a run-a-ball 92 which made him the fastest ODI batsman to score 1000 runs, off just 21 innings: a credit he shares with Kevin Pietersen and Viv Richards. While Trott is nowhere like any of these swashbuckling batsmen, he has been a prolific scorer for the English for the past 18 months. In either forms of the game, he has formed a nucleus around which the temperamental English middle order has built up their challenge. Along with Ian Bell at second down, he forms a wonderful alliance in steadying the English batting ship. As against India, he set the tone for the Innings when he got things moving in the batting power play.
Bell and Trott plundered the Irish for plenty in the batting powerplay overs, but that was not the end of the story. While most of the associate teams lose the plot once the onslaught begins and begin to scurry for cover, the Irish kept their heads above water. Although they were pretty much taken to the cleaners in the batting powerplay, they did not throw in the gauntlet. They clawed their way back in the last 6 overs and pegged England back at least by 20 runs by taking wickets at regular intervals. John Mooney ended up with a four-for and ex-captain Trent Johnston got a brace, which took him to 50 ODI wickets – the first Irish bowler to reach the mark. While most of the bowlers were taken to the cleaners, Stirling, the 20-year old off spinning all rounder impressed with the ability to flight and dip the ball. George Dockrell also seems to be a pretty interesting talent and the final match figures that stand beside his name do not do justice to the way he bowled.
Set to chase 329 to win, the erratic Anderson got lucky first ball when the Irish skipper Will Porterfield chased a wide full pitched delivery and dragged it onto the stumps. This brought in Ed Joyce into the field. The very same Ed Joyce who was representing England 4 years ago and was caught by Eoin Morgan, who was playing for Ireland. Now if this year around Morgan was fit, he would be playing for England, and Joyce for Ireland: what a coincidence that would have been. But this time around we missed it since Morgan is out of the World Cup with injury related issues.
The Irish started well enough but when Swann came on to bowl, they were caught unawares. On a pitch that had little to offer to the spinners, Swann bowled with a lot of guile and skills to take 3/47 off his 10 over spell. The Irish looked all out of sorts against him.
As one wicket fell after another, Ireland was reduced to 111/5 and not even the staunchest of Irish supporters would have expected anything but a massive defeat heading their way. But one Kevin O’ Brian had some other plans. He smashed the ball to all parts of the ground en route to the fastest century in the history of World Cup Cricket. He reached three figures off 50 balls. He received wonderful support from Cusack who himself pitched in with 47 off 58 balls before being run out sacrificing his wicket to save Kevin’s who was having a dream run. He was followed by John Mooney, the highest wicket taker for the Irish. While the tempo suffered in the wake of the fall of the wicket, Mooney was crowded by Strauss and the singles dried up. In course of his swashbuckling century, O’Brien hit 13 boundaries and 6 over-boundaries. One of them, measured at 102 meters, stands as the biggest six of this tournament so far.
He could have swung at one cross batted and may have ended the hash, but Mooney decided to take it more matured fashion. He approached the chase with a wonderfully cool head. And with almost miraculous accuracy, he managed to hit a boundary off the last ball of the over on three occasions, thereby keeping the chase in control. When O’ Brien was finally dismissed for 113 of 63 balls, run out after chasing for a non-existent second run, there was quite some way to go. In this regard, let me mention the fact that the English fielding, which was disastrous on the ground and off the air (I can recollect 5 grassed chances!) picked up at the right time. Bresnan threw the ball in like a bullet and Prior collected it in front of the stumps and threw down the sticks as Kevin dived in futility.
The wily old customer, Trent Johnston hit a four of (an injured) Stuart Broad first up and he and Mooney stole some singles to make the equation go lop sidedly against the English. When Anderson was running in for the last over, the Irish needed only 3 runs to wipe out their arch enemies. And the last-ball-boundary specialist Mooney managed to squeeze out Anderson’s low full toss to deep midwicket for a boundary which settled the hash.
Honestly speaking, I gave the Irish little chance once Porterfield fell first ball, but I am sure so did most of the reasonable cricket fans when they were 111/5. Even the staunchest of the Irish supporters ought to have been heartbroken at this stage. But the way O’ Brien played changed everything.
Like Ryan ten Doeschate of the Netherlands, he too becomes the hero of the day, the only difference being Tendo’s heroics could not bring his team the victory.
India face off against the buoyant boys in green this Sunday: that is going to be fun. They way in which the English and the Bangladeshis before them toyed with the Indian bowling, the Irish should go in with all guns blazing and hope for the best. And at the risk of sounding like loser Alan Harper (think Charlie Sheen’s on screen brother in the massively hit show: Two and a Half Men) the Irish will be the underdogs this Sunday – and everyone loves the Underdogs!
Best of luck folks, make a match out of it: and here’s a hint: of given a choice, bat second against India.