A missed opportunity
Jon Coates (irish Daily Mail)
HOW exquisitely Ireland built a platform to upset the world order once again. How carelessly they tossed the opportunity away. How ironic that Eoin Morgan should be the destroyer of their dreams.
Co Fingal's finest wasn't even picked to play for his new national side yesterday, but as 12th man he came on to field for Graeme Swann and played a decisive role in the nail-biting final act.
Trent Johnston needed nine runs off the last two balls to beat England and his first blow was sailing for six over long-on until Morgan leapt up to parry the ball back into play. Ireland ran two, then Johnston, needing six for a tie, plundered a four to leave them agonisingly short. England squeaked home by two runs.
Forget talk of Ashes hangovers – only three of England's Oval heroes took to the field in the bewildering weather of Belfast yesterday. It was a fair fight and Ireland were the better team for three-quarters of the contest, but defeat in critical phases cost them dearly.
Ireland maintained all week that they could win this game and the expressions of veteran supporters towards the end told the story: they had blown it.
After a three-hour wait, they were ahead of the run rate throughout their rain-revised pursuit of 116 off 20 overs. Belfast teenager Paul Stirling top-scored with a terrific 30 off 26 balls and they needed 50 to win off 11 overs, with seven wickets in the shed. Whereupon it all went pear-shaped.
Paul Collingwood deserves credit for removing momentum from the home charge.. John Mooney and Kevin O'Brien became tied down and suddenly England's three spinners looked unplayable, and five Irish lower-order wickets fell for 12 runs.
Finally Kyle McCallan reacquainted Ireland with the boundary, but they were still left needing 17 off the last over.
Johnston, the undisputed man of the match for his bowling efforts and near-miracle with the bat, drove Owais Shah for four with the fourth ball, then the next was going for six when Morgan's fateful act took an Irish win out of the equation.
But what a performance from Johnston. He had starred with four wickets for just 26 runs as England were restricted to 202 for nine from their 50 overs,
Such was the threat of rain, there was a real risk of his figures not counting, and that would have been a pity because Johnston's 100th contribution to the Irish cause was right up there with the best. Last year's 'retirement' from one-day cricket seems to have done him a power of good.
n his first spell he took 2-7 from six overs, dislodging Ravi Bopara and Jonathan Trott without scoring. Johnston almost had Joe Denly out off the last ball before a rain break, but Andrew White misread the trajectory of his skied drive.
Kent opener Denly, on senior debut, went on to be the bulwark of the English innings, an earthy struggle brightened only by some late Luke Wright fireworks.
It was the in-form Regan West who cracked open the middle-order, running round from fine leg to pocket a paddle shot from Matt Prior and then inducing a big top edge from Collingwood.
Owais Shah swept McCallan for the first six in the 36th over and then Wright went to town on the off-spinner, plundering 36 off 26 balls to nourish flagging English spirits.
Wright would have motored on if not for the athleticism of John Mooney, who sprinted left from long-off to give Johnston a third wicket, plunging forward and doing superbly to keep the ball in hand.
Johnston also prised out Denly for 67, with a ball that hardly left the ground, and it was tail-ender Tim Bresnan who rode his luck to deny the Irish their tenth and final prize.
During the break, the crowd were serenaded by the Duckworth-Lewis Method, a witty new alliance between cross-border pop stars Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh.
Winding up their performance cowering beneath golfing umbrellas, Divine Comedy singer Hannon declared: 'We are the Duckworth-Lewis Method and we calculate that Ireland need two runs to win.'
When the rain finally desisted, Ireland in fact needed 116 to win, from 20 overs, and they set about their task with abandon.
Ireland were ahead of the run rate for four overs as William Porterfield and Niall O'Brien lashed out at anything in reach, but both openers fell to fierce drives straight to cover.
Stirling warmed up with a sublime lofted drive off Ryan Sidebottom, then danced down the wicket to send Swann through extra cover.
Collingwood then tried to bore the batsmen out by changing the field every second delivery, before asking for a new ball.
Nothing could interrupt Stirling, who had four boundaries by the time he flicked a superb six off the captain. Andre Botha came to the party with a couple of swishes off his legs, helping Stirling to within 50 of the target, whereupon both fell tamely to spin. And that was the beginning of the end.