Ireland’s finest hour came against England in Bengaluru at the 2011 World Cup as Kevin O’Brien powered their golden generation to a famous three-wicket victory.
Six players remained from that triumph as they threatened to complete a second win over England at Malahide on Friday, including O’Brien – whose 50-ball century eight years ago remains the swiftest in World Cup history – skipper Will Porterfield and beanpole seamer Boyd Rankin.
But their scaring of England on home turf hinged on the bowling of debutant Josh Little, the left-arm quick ripping through Eoin Morgan’s men with 4-40, to turn the game on its head before Ben Foakes, who scored 61 not out on his one-day international bow, and Tom Curran, with an unbeaten 47, saw the visitors home in the evening sunshine.
SCORECARD | AS IT HAPPENED
Little’s dismissal of Morgan, for a three-ball duck, was particularly eye-catching – a brute of a bouncer on a slow deck that the batsman could only glove onto his shoulder and behind to wicketkeeper Gary Wilson.
Wilson – back into the Ireland side and winning a 100th ODI cap after overcoming a vision issue that prevented him from facing Afghanistan earlier this year – claimed a stunning catch shortly after, plucking the ball with his left glove after Dawid Malan’s flat-footed drive against Little.
Another cracking catch had earned Little a maiden ODI wicket in the eighth over of the run chase when George Dockrell, another survivor from Bengaluru 2011, flung himself towards the ball at mid-wicket after James Vince had absolutely crunched a shot in his direction.
Yet Little’s aggression certainly ruffled England on a day on which cricketers who should play a key role in Ireland’s long-term future came to the fore.
Paul Stirling, just 20 when Ireland beat England in the 2011 World Cup, gave the hosts a brisk start to their innings after they were inserted by Morgan on a damp, dank afternoon in Dublin.
The Middlesex man thumped Jofra Archer’s first delivery in an England shirt through the off-side for four, and then picked up three further boundaries off the Barbados-born seamer before he departed for 33, a flick through fine leg with both feet in the air among them.
Then, with Ireland 111-6 after Andrew Balbirnie had been stumped thanks to some quick thinking from Foakes behind the sticks, another of the home side’s debutants played an important cameo.
Mark Adair, released by Warwickshire in 2017 and only called into this Ireland squad following injury to fellow all-rounder Stuart Thompson, struck 32 from 30 balls.
Among his strokes were two superb drives through mid-on for four and a couple of meaty sixes over deep mid-wicket off Curran, who was arguably the pick of England’s bowlers, despite finishing with three wickets to Liam Plunkett’s four.
Adair’s seventh-wicket stand with Dockrell was worth 46 and helped lift Ireland to 198 all out from their revised 45 overs, the game having been truncated due to damp patches on the outfield.
England were still hot favourites on a freezing day at halfway and would have remained so as Vince and Malan – opening in the absence of the withdrawn Alex Hales and the injured Jason Roy – put on 34, a stand speckled with three typically buttery cover drives from Vince.
But Vince’s demise to that stonking Dockrell catch triggered a fine Irish comeback, one which may even have resulted in a win had Porterfield opted for the review when Tim Murtagh pinned Foakes on the pad on 37. The ball was hitting leg stump and so would have reduced England to 137-7.
As Ireland’s chair of selectors Andrew White remarked in the official matchday programme, veterans O’Brien, Porterfield, Wilson, Rankin and Murtagh still have a key role to play in the short term passing on their wisdom to the newer members of the squad.
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May 4, 2019, 10:00am
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But at some point they will move on, leaving Little, Stirling, Adair and Dockrell to push on for a period in which Ireland will experience a far greater volume of high-class cricket.