Ireland v England - a boundary view
A big game – possibly the biggest cricket match ever staged in Belfast – with enormous anticipation and a massive build-up in the days following the visiting England team’s win over Australia at the Oval thus regaining the coveted Ashes urn. Throw into the mix the bullish comments of Irish coach Phil Simmons that provided Ireland played well they were a match for any country and could certainly beat England who are not so mighty at the 50 over format of the game. In addition there was the sneaking suspicion that Paul Collingwood’s boys, without their star players Pietersen and Flintoff, would be vulnerable after the highs of the Oval weekend
Despite the depressing weather – the Stormont ground was partly under water when groundsman Philip McCormick arrived for work at 8am on Wednesday morning – and a worrying forecast the match, which had been a virtual sellout, captured the imagination of the cricketing public throughout Ireland as was illustrated by the number of Southern registered vehicles stuck in the traffic on the roads approaching Stormont well before the starting time of 11am.Perhaps Cricket Ireland could have anticipated spectators arriving at the gates of the small car park opposite the church and expecting to be directed to somewhere to park for the day – after all the Stormont estate probably runs to over 100 acres. Instead it appeared that the said car park was full very very early and a huge traffic hold up resulted. Spectators began arriving on the Upper Newtownards Road from 9am encouraged by positive coverage from all the local media pundits regarding both the weather and the outcome!!
Among the early arrivals was former Cliftonville batsman Alaister Burton with his sons Max aged 8 and his elder brother Jack 10, both of whom attend Mossley Primary School and are also benefiting from the expert coaching of former Irish International Ryan Eagleson at Carrickfergus Cricket Club. Although the boys’ favourite player, Freddie Flintoff, was absent from the visitor’s line up after a knee operation their excited anticipation even on a dismal cloudy morning was evident. Alaister himself is originally from Northampton but is an adopted Ulsterman after many years living in the province.
13 years old Andrew Martin from Carnmoney was also early in his seat in Stand C along with his father and Andrew who attends Belfast High School which is the alma mater of current Irish star batsman Paul Stirling is an aspiring batsman on the school Under 14s. He is also a big Flintoff fan but was hoping that Ireland could put one over on the super star visiting XI.
From farther afield came the Herbert family who although they originate in various parts of England are now resident in Skerries in north County Dublin. Jonathan who works- and plays for RTE- his wife Colette and their children Nicola and Madelene aged 6 and 11 respectively had come to Stormont to support Ireland having taken an enormous interest in the destination of the Ashes over the previous seven weeks.
Making his way to the sponsors rather imposing two storey building in front of the main pavilion was the familiar figure of former Irish international captain with over 100 caps Alan Lewis who is probably better known as an international Rugby Union referee.” Louis” was looking forward to enjoying a day out with his family and had his wife Sharon and children Robin aged 10 and Bobby 8 for company. He was delighted that the current Irish players were having the opportunity to match their skills against the best and felt that the occasion was fantastic for Irish cricket. As for the result he thought that an underdog role suited the Irish side and that England were firm favourites.
Over in Stand A retired Royal Mail supervisor Ernie Herron was also looking forward to the big game having travelled from his home in Holywood where for many years he was a loyal supporter of the local side.” They played at the side of the dual carriageway and had some very good Army players from the local camp at Kinnegar” Ernie recalled. He hoped that Ireland could pull off a shock win but was more anxious about the weather as there certainly was very little in the way of shelter available in the ground. Alongside him were Paul Walker, a 32 year old BT employee who admitted to having very little knowledge of cricket as he played hockey and his girl friend Nichola Farrelly who was disappointed that Freddie Flintoff wasn’t playing – that seemed to be a recurring theme!!
As the starting time drew ever nearer and the players started their training routines in front of the pavilion the anticipation level grew and spectators hurried through the entrances to find their seats. England would bat first according to the very efficient PA system with very loud musical accompaniment – the fact that play would start on time was sufficient to celebrate for all present.
The story of the game and the exciting climax is available elsewhere on the site but I am concluding this piece with a mention of the most entertaining person I encountered all day – Dylan Gardiner aged 6 who was still in the ground unlike many others at 5.30 when play restarted after a 3 hour rain break. Dylan was with his Dad Stephen, his Mum Cathy and his sister Rachel aged 12. He attends Stranmillis Primary School and lives at Wellington Square by the Lagan Embankment. Dylan gave all these details himself but was stuck for a favourite cricketer although he did like Steven Gerrard!!! Thank you Dylan you made my day.