Weather blights big game in Belfast
Ian Callender (Irish Mail On Sunday)
Ireland’s biennial opportunity to play Australia in home conditions was blighted by the weather, with only 10.4 overs possible at Stormont yesterday.
It was to the groundsman’s credit that there was any play at all after 48 hours of almost non-stop rain in Belfast. Yet, remarkably, the start was delayed by only 45 minutes. But what a start.
Inside three balls, Ireland had lost two wickets for no runs with bat not even making contact with ball as Brett Lee steamed in from the City End and, with all three deliveries in excess of 90mph, he hit the stumps twice and the pads of Ed Joyce in between.
It was thrilling stuff for the crowd but as Ireland captain William Porterfield, Lee’s first victim, acknowledged afterwards, it was not the ideal start.
“Losing two wickets in three balls is never ideal but Lee started on the money. It was always going to nibble round, always going to be a challenge in those conditions. There’s not much more you can ask of your opening bowler. I pushed at a wee bit, it nipped back and was disappointed to miss it,” said Porterfield.
He was fired up and ready to go. “But you have to expect that against someone like Lee. We just had to rebuild and it was a good challenge.”
Meeting the challenge was Niall O’Brien, recalled to the team after being left out of the World Twenty20 qualifiers in Dubai in March, because he chose the Bangladesh Premier League before Ireland’s tour of Kenya the previous month.
When the rain arrived just before 12.15pm, O’Brien had faced 30 balls and was 11 not out. He admitted it was great to be back.
“It’s the first time I have ever come in at No 4 in the first over but I was itching to get out to bat. I’m not a great one for sitting around so it was great to get out there and meet my former (Northamptonshire) team-mate (Brett Lee).
“He was fantastic. He’s 36 years old and fit as he’s ever been and from the first ball he was on the money. He’s still a world class bowler and that Australia attack is a pretty handy bowling unit,” said O’Brien.
There was no respite for the Ireland batsmen at the other end with Pat Cummings, whom George Dockrell’s Ireland team will face at the Under 19 World Cup finals in August, bowling the fastest ball of the day at a shade under 94mph but both he and Lee were consistently over 90mph on a Stormont pitch which played superbly and 250 would barely have been a competitive total if the game had gone the distance.
Ireland gave a debut to Middlesex opening bowler Tim Murtagh – although he must wait for his first action – and Australia, with no fewer than six pace bowlers in their 15-man squad, left out Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Clint McKay with Twenty20 captain George Bailey the other member to miss out.
Watching the early mayhem from the other end was Paul Stirling and he saw out the second over from Ben Hifenhaus which also yielded the first run of the match, via a legside wide.
O’Brien scored the first run off the bat before Stirling got into his stride, cutting Lee over the head of point and the crowd of more than 5,000, sitting in the blustery conditions, finally had something to cheer about.
It was the free-scoring Stirling who dominated the action, hitting three more boundaries in his classy innings of 24 from 27 balls before he was brilliantly caught, one-handed to his right, by the Australia captain, Michael Clarke.
Two balls later the rain started to fall and before the next over could be completed, with Ireland on 36 for three, it was heavy enough for the players to run off the field, never to return, despite a number of inspections by the umpires. Play was finally called off at 4pm.
While the crowd, who had paid £40 to watch 65 balls – they lost out on a full refund by just five deliveries – were the big losers on the day, both teams have greater challenges ahead.
Australia head into a five-match one-day series against England, starting on Friday, while Ireland have two World Cup qualifying matches against Afghanistan in Clontarf at the beginning of next week.
“Since we came back from Dubai we haven’t had much time together, so it’s great to have three days together. It’s disappointing we didn’t get a full game of cricket because we have only a 10-day turnaround before Afghanistan and they are more important than today,” said Porterfield.
“We have to be on the world stage at the major tournaments and with Cricket Ireland having led the way and done all the hard work to get the Associates back in the World Cup, we have to be there.”