Here was a routine ODI victory for England except for the obvious oddities, empty stands that served only to echo the exhortations of the players, cloudless skies and the floodlights blazing way before dusk had even contemplated descending.
Eoin Morgan’s side were required to chase only 173 after David Willey had caused mayhem at the start of Ireland’s innings and, after some messiness at the top of the order, Sam Billings and Morgan, who had demoted himself to No 6, ensured there would be no dramas. They won by six wickets with more than 22 overs to spare.
This would have been a drab game even if there had been 15,000 spectators in the stands. The viewers/listeners were lucky to have any sort of game to follow given Ireland were 28 for five before the end of the seventh over and still rocking from Willey’s opening spell that delivered four wickets.
A superb debut from the 21-year-old Curtis Campher, who would be unbeaten on 59 at end of the innings, created the semblance of a contest. When England were 78 for four there was even a glimmer of hope for the Irish even though their opening bowler, Barry McCarthy, was compelled to limp off in his first over.
Willey did not have to work too hard for his wickets but no one could begrudge him that on his return to the team. He was the regular in the squad who was omitted from the World Cup. It was the correct decision since Jofra Archer’s inclusion was justified but it must have been hard to take after playing 46 matches over a four-year period. His assets include his ability to swing the new ball on a good day and to stay strong when under attack; however his lack of pace contributed to him being the one to be discarded. The good news for him is he is still in the frame and this performance will help.
His fourth ball to Paul Stirling was nondescript; it was fullish on middle and leg and Stirling, often such a dangerous opponent, clipped it gently to Eoin Morgan at short midwicket. At the start of his second over Ireland’s captain Andy Balbirnie drove and edged to the wicketkeeper.
There was a little flurry of runs from the bat of Gareth Delany, who is an interesting batsman. His stance looks orthodox as the bowler sets off: by the time he reaches the crease there is a change. By then Delany’s bat is held remarkably high, like a periscope, and his hands are stationed right at the top of the handle, which is usually the sign of someone who likes to give the ball a healthy whack.
Here he hit five boundaries, four of which sped from the middle of his bat.
Then from 28 for two the innings imploded. Harry Tector on his ODI debut was bowled off the inside edge by Saqib Mahmood for a duck. Next Delany sliced a drive against Willey to Tom Banton at backward point. Lorcan Tucker’s first delivery hit his pads, the umpire declined the appeal but England reviewed successfully.
It was a minor triumph that Ireland should reach 172 from there. Campher, South Africa-born and yet to play in Ireland, was the architect of the recovery with an innings notable for its composure and neatness of stroke in very testing circumstances. First he added 51 with Kevin O’Brien at a time when Adil Rashid was posing problems. The wrist spinner’s rhythm was good and his googly often indecipherable.
After O’Brien’s dismissal, caught at long-off off Rashid, Simi Singh encapsulated Irish nervousness by running himself out for a duck, seeking a nonexistent single.
However Andy McBrine, yet another off-spinner from that clan, battled impressively alongside Campher. First he scampered singles, he cracked an off-break from Moeen Ali over midwicket for the solitary six in the innings and then there were boundaries off Tom Curran who eventually snared him with a short ball.
The last five Irish wickets had added 144 runs thanks to Campher and his two allies, not enough to trouble England but sufficient to avoid humiliation. This was a spirited performance by Ireland’s lower order and a mildly disturbing one for England. Against tougher opposition allowing such a recovery might be costly and it highlighted one shortcoming of this particular lineup. Mahmood bowled briskly enough but the sort of pace usually supplied by Archer and Mark Wood might well have terminated the Irish innings earlier.
England stuttered at the start. Jonny Bairstow was lbw on review to an off-break from McBrine, Jason Roy was stuck on the crease and surprised by Craig Young and James Vince – well, his dismissal failed to surprise us.
For those with poor memories he was caught cover driving. Then Tom Banton, ill at ease, mis-hit a pull shot.
However Billings played with fluency from the start and soon Morgan was in charge alongside him. In all probability Billings would not have been in the team if Joe Denly had not suffered a back injury on the eve of the match. Now he would seem to be certain to start on Saturday whether Denly is fit or not.