Close contest
Debutant Little stars but Ireland fall just short of famous England win
The 19-year-old fast-bowler took four wickets as Ireland fought back at Malahide.

Ryan Bailey reports from Malahide 

THE SCORECARD WILL show an agonising four-wicket defeat, one which will sting for quite a while given Ireland had chances to pull off a stunning upset here, but this was much, much better from Graham Ford’s side.

The performance, at least, provides a springboard to build a crucial summer of cricket on and while the wait for a first victory over a Full Member nation in four years goes on, there was enough encouragement to suggest there are green shoots of recovery moving forward.

Ireland v England - One Day International - Malahide Cricket Club PA Wire / PA Images Little took four wickets at Malahide. PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

There are still serious question marks over the batting and ultimately it was the first innings that cost Ireland in this One-Day International, but in Josh Little they have a potential star of the future.

On debut, the 19-year-old produced a mesmerising display of aggressive, yet controlled, fast bowling to take four England wickets and turn what seemed like a procession for the visitors into a gripping contest.

In the end, England — the number-one ranked team and favourites for next month’s World Cup — were able to rely on their depth to dig them out of a hole and escape Dublin in tact, getting across the line with three overs to spare.

An unbeaten half-century from debutant Ben Foakes sucked the life out of Ireland’s second-innings charge after Little, Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin had left England sweating in Malahide.

Little was one of three ODI debutants on the Ireland side, and certainly, the injection of youth provided by the left-arm seamer and Mark Adair was a welcome fillip for Ford’s side.

The teenager has been earmarked as a raw talent for some time, representing Ireland at the U19 World Cup before making his Twenty20 debut last summer, but this was a real coming of age performance from the former schoolboy hockey international.

He bowled with real venom and accuracy to firstly have James Vince caught superbly by the sprawling George Dockrell at midwicket and then showed his natural pace by getting one to climb on England captain Eoin Morgan, who gloved behind to Gary Wilson.

Defending 198, Ireland’s tails were up. When Murtagh trapped Joe Root in front and Little claimed his third by accounting for Dawid Malan, England were in real trouble at 66 for five, only for Foakes, David Willey and then Tom Curran to take the game away from Ireland.

Foakes and Curran shared an unbeaten stand of 98 to get their side across the line with three overs remaining.

The hosts had chances, too. Their failure to review a not out call when Foakes, who finished on 61, was struck in front by Murtagh proved crucial, as replays showed the umpire’s decision would have been reversed, while Lorcan Tucker shelled a chance at deep point as the sun set on Ireland’s hopes. 

Ford will again look to his side’s efforts with the bat and wonder what if. Their sub-200 total proved, as expected, to be below par despite their best endeavours with the ball and in the field. They need to address that area of their game as quickly as possible. 

Still, few would have given the home side a chance at the halfway mark — they went out to 12/1 with the bookies — as a new season failed to bring about renewed fortunes for Ireland’s misfiring batting order. 

Ireland v England - One Day International - Malahide Cricket Club PA Wire / PA Images England celebrate the wicket of Kevin O'Brien. PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

Up until the innings break, it had been another deeply frustrating showing on the big stage, the loss of key wickets in the middle overs again completely undermining the solid base provided by openers Paul Stirling and William Porterfield, who had put on 50 for the first wicket.

The initial signs were encouraging. Stirling punched a couple of exquisite boundaries off the front and back foot to get Ireland up and running, but the procession wasn’t long in coming, with Liam Plunkett’s four-wicket haul doing the bulk of the damage.

Most disappointing was the ease in which Ireland rolled over to eventually be dismissed for 198 with 11 balls of the innings unused, and that they did get to that total was again courtesy of a late-order rearguard action spearheaded by Adair and George Dockrell.

Their 46-run partnership steadied a sinking ship and in hauling Ireland up towards the 200 mark, gave Ford’s side a fighting chance in the field, a lifeline the bowlers seized with remarkable tenacity.

Still, the second half of this game should not completely conceal the continued failings of the top and middle order. Once Porterfield followed Stirling to the sheds, debutant Tucker, Kevin O’Brien and Wilson all fell for single-digit scores to leave Ireland floundering.

It all felt very familiar, and it certainly doesn’t take an educated eye to figure out the root of the problem either. Ireland’s last nine ODI totals — 161, 260, 114, 219, 124, 183, 198, 209 and now 198 — highlight what is becoming a growing trend, rather than an exception to the norm.

And in Porterfield, Wilson and O’Brien they have three top-order batsmen who are averaging 12, 15 and 20 respectively in this format of the game in the last 12 months. Porterfield’s 17 here, by way of example, was his second-highest score since March 2018, while Wilson — just back after an eye injury which kept him out of the winter tours — hasn’t passed 40 in each of his last 15 innings in all formats.

There was also an element of misfortune in the manner of Andrew Balbirnie’s controversial dismissal. On 29, the Pembroke batsman looked set to anchor Ireland’s innings again, but after attempting a sweep shot off legspinner Joe Denly, was stumped by Foakes.

Jofra Archer Oisin Keniry / INPHO Archer clean bowls Ireland's Adair. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Balbirnie had planted his back foot in the crease but, having gathered sharply down the legside, wicketkeeper Foakes waited for Balbirnie to overbalance and his toe to come off the ground before breaking the bails. By the letter of the law, third umpire Aleem Dar had to give the Ireland batsman out, but the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ debate raged.

Ireland were now 111 for six and although Adair provided momentary resistance, notably clearing his front leg and swatting Curran into the far stand for back-to-back sixes, Jofra Archer returned for his second spell with a 90.3 mile per hour yorker to put an end to that.

For a player who wasn’t even in the squad until yesterday when Stuart Thompson pulled up with a shoulder injury, former Warwickshire all-rounder Adair proved all his worth with a quick-fire 32, before taking the new ball for Ireland.

It was Little, however, who stole the show to give the home side a sniff of a famous win, only for England’s added firepower to prove the difference. Still much work to do, but this was a solid start to the international season. 

One-Day International, Malahide:

  • Ireland 198 all out (Stirling 33, Adair 32, Plunkett 4/35, Curran 3/35)
  • England 199/6 (Foakes 61*, Curran 47*, Little 4/45)

England win by four wickets, full scorecard available here.

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