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positive signs

More rain pain for Ireland but positives to take after running world champions close

The result may not have gone their way but Ireland once again showed why they belong at the top level.

- Ryan Bailey reports from Belfast

PERCHED ON THE hill overlooking Stormont cricket ground, the developments in Parliament Building over the past few days have thrown the Northern Ireland executive into disarray.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt’s proposal to withdraw his party from the power-sharing administration appears to have initiated a remarkable government collapse.

Within the grand estate in the east of Belfast, Ireland were unable to cause a similar level of commotion on a day they looked to further upset the established cricketing hierarchy.

Not for the first time this summer, a rare opportunity to flex the muscles against one of the sport’s governors was hindered by the elements as the players, and healthy crowd, were forced to dodge fleeting showers.

Just as there was in May when the marquee fixture of the season against England was washed-out, there was plenty of rain around on Thursday but there was enough game time for Australia, the world champions, to ensure there would be no collapse on their part.

It was another case of what might have been for Ireland as they suffered a rain-affected 23-run reversal.

If only they had not started as poorly as they did with the ball. If only the rain didn’t arrive when they had wrestled the ascendancy back. If only their run chase had gotten off to a better start. If only one of Niall O’Brien or Ed Joyce had kicked-on after putting the hosts within grasp of another memorable win.

Fans watching the game Presseye / Rowland White/INPHO A crowd of over 3,000 were in attendance at Stormont. Presseye / Rowland White/INPHO / Rowland White/INPHO

It wasn’t to be but there were also plenty of positives at the end of an otherwise underwhelming international summer.

“Overall, we played quite well,” captain William Porterfield said afterwards. “We were pleased with the way we came back with the ball. That was a fantastic effort by the lads and the way everyone came back was great.

“The middle overs is probably one of the harder spells in 50 over cricket to take wickets so the way we did that was a really pleasing aspect.”

After heavy overnight rain and consistent morning showers forced a lengthy delay to the start of play, Australian captain Steve Smith sprung a surprise when he elected to bat first.

His decision paid instant dividends. David Warner and Joe Burns, making his ODI debut, made light work of Ireland’s new ball attack with Craig Young, in particular, lacking any semblance of consistency and he was suitably punished.

Burns couldn’t have asked for an easier introduction to this level as he showed his capacity as an opener in the one-day format on his way to a half-century. David Warner was typically destructive too as he raced to 84 with the pair putting on a century opening stand.

Much like the overhead clouds, it looked rather bleak for Ireland as the game threatened to run away from them before it had even begun. But Andy McBrine, preferred to George Dockrell, was introduced and quickly ignited a fightback.

Ireland Australia Cricket AP / Press Association Images Joe Burns impressed on ODI debut for the tourists. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“He hasn’t done anything wrong and he’s been waiting for his chance,” Porterfield said of the young off-spinner. “He’s a good character to be around the squad and every time he’s been called upon, he’s done the job.

“He’s been thrown in in big games, like the World Cup, and again today he did his job which is a fantastic effort. You know what you’re getting when you throw him the ball.”

But the management’s decision to drop Dockrell compounds a miserable few months for the 23-year-old. Having fallen out of favour at Somerset last year, the new season failed to bring a change in fortunes and he’s yet to feature for his county in 2015.

Porterfield added: “It’s obviously a very big decision [to leave Dockrell out]. He’s been a massive performer for us in the last while.

“It’s a mixture of he hasn’t been getting as much cricket as he would have liked and also we need to see what Andy’s got. It’s a massive game and he’s proved himself again.”

McBrine’s economical spell, which included the wicket of Glenn Maxwell, allowed Ireland to gain a foothold in proceedings again. Six wickets fell in quick succession and those in the stands suddenly had something to cheer about.

The tourists had slumped to 222 for six when the heavens opened again and another lengthy delay resulted in the Australian innings being aborted after 44.2 overs.

Ireland were eventually set a target of 181 off 24 overs but had already lost Paul Stirling and Porterfield. The former barely looked interested in adapting to conditions as he flashed his blade at one from Nathan Coulter-Nile to depart for an ugly four-ball duck.

Niall O’Brien, who had enjoyed a good day behind the stumps after regaining the gloves, continued his prolific county form and along with Ed Joyce halted Australia’s charges.

The experienced pair put on 86 in just 12.4 overs.

“To come back from two early wickets with Joycey and Nobby putting on that partnership and the way they set it up was pleasing,” Porterfield said. “Just class showed in the end and we had a couple of cameos and a couple of gos at it but we just came up 20 short.”

Ireland Australia Cricket AP / Press Association Images Porterfield was bowled in the first over of Ireland's reply by Mitchell Starc. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Joyce was typically stylish but as the rate climbed, both fell in the 40s and Ireland’s race was run.

“Obviously we were playing quality opposition and the lads can take a lot from that,” Porterfield continued. “We want more of these fixtures. We’ve played two ODIs since the World Cup and that’s frustrating for ourselves.

“Two games in six months is pretty frustrating but we have Pakistan and Sri Lanka coming here next year so that’s moving in the right direction.

“The more fixtures we get, the more games we’ll start winning because although we’ve played well, when you’re playing regular games it becomes slightly easier.”

Smith reserved special praise for the hosts on a day when his reign as Australian captain across all formats began on a winning note.

“We got everything we wanted from this game,” he said. “Ireland have got some very good players. Niall O’Brien and Ed Joyce played very well and they’re getting more games next year which is good for them.

“In these conditions, their bowlers are very useful and it was a good workout for us. When I was batting, Tim Murtagh was getting good movement.”

The paucity of fixtures remains Ireland’s biggest obstacle on building on the headway made in the last decade but Cricket Ireland are making progress in engaging Full Members for home and away series.

A limited-overs series against Zimbabwe in October is to be announced next week and while it may not have been the desired result on Thursday, the performance certainly provides grounds for optimism heading into a busy winter.

Ireland miss out on landmark win after falling just short against Australia

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