The Fighting Irish down England in High-Scoring ODI

Matt Roller, in ESPNCricinfo, August 2020, with this title “Paul Stirling, Andy Balbirnie set up famous chase as Ireland hunt down 329″

Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie shared a second-wicket partnership worth more than 200 runs PA Photos via Getty images

ireland 329 for 3 (Stirling 142, Balbirnie 113) beat England 328 (Morgan 106, Banton 58, Willey 51, Young 3-53) by seven wickets

Ireland pulled off their second win against England and their first ODI victory against major opposition since the 2015 World Cup, with Kevin O’Brien, the hero of Bangalore, hitting the winning run after centuries from Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie had laid the foundations.

Ireland pulled off their second win against England and their first ODI victory against major opposition since the 2015 World Cup, with Kevin O’Brien, the hero of Bangalore, hitting the winning run after centuries from Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie had laid the foundations.

Chasing 329 to win – the same score they managed in their famous 2011 scalp – Stirling hammered 142 and Balbirnie 113 in a partnership of 214 that broke the back of the chase. A late wobble threatened to derail their challenge, but Harry Tector and O’Brien added 50 in 5.2 overs to seal a memorable win.

An Irishman had done the heavy lifting for England with the bat too, Eoin Morgan the standout in their total of 328 all out, but regular wickets derailed them on a hard, fresh pitch that was excellent for batting throughout. But for a last-wicket stand of 30, the run chase would have been something of a cakewalk.

2-0 down in the series after two batting implosions, Balbirnie stuck with his youngsters but knew that it was the senior batsmen that needed to stand up. Stirling had struggled badly against David Willey in the series to date, but started confidently and positively here, slamming his third ball through cover to get the chase up and running.

The Powerplay was largely sedate, Ireland focusing on preserving wickets after awful starts in the first two games, until Stirling whacked Saqib Mahmood over square leg for two towering sixes to end the eighth. Gareth Delany looked out of sorts, shaping to flick off his hip but losing his leg stump to Willey, but at 55 for 1 after the first 10, they had a platform to build from.

Ireland had been meek against spin throughout the first two games, struggling either to rotate the strike or hit boundaries as Adil Rashid spun a web around their inexperienced middle order. But with their best two players of spin together they decided to attack, with Balbirnie sweeping Moeen Ali and Stirling bludgeoning through midwicket, square leg and the off side.

After a brief experiment with James Vince’s medium pace, Moeen – standing in as captain after Morgan hurt his groin while batting – turned to his seamers after 25 overs, hoping they could break a partnership that had nudged past 100. They successfully stemmed the flow of runs but could not find an opening, despite a chance for Vince at midwicket who dropped a difficult catch off Mahmood with Stirling on 95.

Stirling brought up his hundred with a nudge for one, barely deigning to celebrate his first ton against England, and when Willey returned for his second spell, Stirling welcomed him with a silky drive through mid-off and a wristy flick through square leg. Balbirnie continued to sweep Moeen at will, moving to a hundred of his own with a slash over point off Tom Curran.

But Stirling’s runs started to dry up. Vince gave him another life on 139, dropping a steepler running back from midwicket, before a horrible mix-up saw him short of his ground at the non-striker’s end thanks to some good work from Curran. Ireland sent Tector in at No. 4 rather than O’Brien, who started shakily against Rashid.

With England putting the squeeze on and the required rate ticking above nine, Balbirnie decided he couldn’t afford to play Rashid’s final over out. He clipped a pair of twos and then went for the jugular, only picking out Billings at long-off. That finally brought O’Brien to the crease, who watched Tector cream Rashid through cover before himself surviving an lbw review.

O’Brien then slammed a waist-high no-ball from Willey for a towering six over midwicket, before Tector slashed Curran through the covers once more. He got a life from Tom Banton, who shelled a difficult chance at long-on, and struggled to get bat on ball, but O’Brien crunched Willey over third man and Tector carved Curran through point to leave 10 from 8 balls.

With 5 off 4 needed, Mahmood sent down a chest-high no-ball which Tector pulled for one. O’Brien clipped off the pads to leave one required, then swung and missed at a length ball, before pulling behind square to cue rapturous celebrations from the away dressing room.

England’s frenetic innings had been underpinned by Morgan’s 14th ODI hundred. He added 146 in 18.2 overs with Banton, who made his first international half-century from No. 5 to drive England towards an imposing total, before a second middle-order hiccup in as many games threatened to derail their innings completely.

Willey thrashed 51 from No. 8 to drive them up past 300, but their 328 was a par score at best.

Balbirnie’s decision to bowl first had reaped instant dividends when Craig Young dismissed Jason Roy with the fourth ball of the game, pushing an outswinger to second slip with hard hands. It was the 15th time that Roy has been out in the first over of an ODI in his career, nine times more than anyone else in that time, and the third time Young had got him in the series.

Mark Adair, back in the side after a long-standing ankle problem, then nipped one in off the seam to burst through Jonny Bairstow, and when UltraEdge showed that James Vince had got an inside edge on a Young inswinger, England were in trouble at 44 for 3.

In a different era, that would have meant the middle order dropping anchor and knocking the ball around for 15 overs, but that is not the England way. Instead, Morgan – back at No. 4 after sliding down to No. 6 in the first two games – resembled the French general Ferdinand Foch: “My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.”

With Banton for support, Morgan treated Ireland’s seamers with utter disdain, driving, cutting and pulling effortlessly to rack up a 39-ball half-century – 40 of those runs coming in boundaries. The only chance he offered was dropped by Balbirnie on 67. He was particularly brutal when Ireland dropped short, swatting Josh Little for a pair of sixes through backward square before drilling him dead-straight down the ground for a 78-ball hundred.

And then, without warning, another middle-overs wobble threatened to knock England off course. Morgan was the first to go, slashing Little high into the off side which Tector gobbled up at backward point, before Banton – who had looked much more assured in this innings, scoring fluently with good tempo and rhythm – was trapped on the pad by a full, flat ball from part-time legspinner Delany.

Balbirnie, to his credit, had attacked with his field placings throughout the series, and that did not change today. He brought close fielders in on both sides of the wicket whenever a new man came in, and reaped the reward when the skittish Ali chipped a back-of-a-length ball from Curtis Campher to short cover.

Billings, the man in form, couldn’t make it three decisive innings in a row, chipping to mid-off to the second ball of Young’s second spell. 190 for 3 had turned into 216 for 7 in the space of seven overs, and Ireland sensed a real opening. And while Willey and Curran dragged them up to a decent total, it would not prove to be enough.

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