Lee impresses as Aussies win hearts and minds
Ger Siggins (Independent on Sunday)
THE rain that swamped Belfast over the past 48 hours also put paid to any hopes of a result in the ODI at Stormont.
An all-night mopping-up operation by groundstaff allowed play to start just 45 minutes late, and gave the Aussie pacemen a chance to stretch their legs.
Australia's selectors have sent six quicks on this tour, but shipped a bit of stick for persevering with Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, with the two veterans accused of being bed-blockers for their exciting young guns.
But the first three balls bowled at Stormont showed just what the 35-year-old Lee still has to offer.
Ireland captain William Porterfield has had a horrendous run with Warwickshire - his last six innings read 1, 3, 5, 4, 4 and 7 - and look to be in two minds when Lee unleashed a 90mph opening delivery.
He pushed at the ball, which cut back viciously to remove Porterfield's stump, stunning the hardy, mostly local crowd. Ed Joyce missed the line of the next ball but the boisterous appeal was rejected by Belfast umpire Mark Hawthorne. No DRS here, but replays showed the ball was missing by a whisker.
Joyce's survival was brief, however, as Lee turned up the pace a notch and blew through his defences with fast late inswing to leave Ireland stupified at 0-2.
Paul Stirling was watching all this from the far end, but when he finally got to face Ben Hilfenhaus he didn't hold back his natural belligerence.
Two years ago at Clontarf Ireland were in a strong position, restricting Australia to 231. Stirling took to the bowling that day, and at 80-0 off 11 there were hopes of a home win.
That wasn't to be, but most test nations don't take Ireland for granted any more. Except the ECB of course, which raised Gary Wilson's dander this weekend by referring to this game as a "warm up" for Australia.
"I think you'll find it's an ODI", tweeted the Surrey wicketkeeper, suggesting the ECB show some "respect" to a team that beat England at last year's World Cup.
Yesterday Stirling punished anything wide, and crashed Lee to the cover point fence off their first encounter. Hilfenhaus was struggling with his line, and Stirling hit successive boundaries before he changed ends to better effect.
Much of the interest in this new-look Australia side centres on the new paceman Patrick Cummins, who impressed with the 18 balls he was allowed to bowl by the Irish weather.
A wide-elbowed, bustling approach leads to a low, whippy delivery that has been likened to Jason Gillespie. Cummins bowls a tight line and kept Stirling and Niall O'Brien quiet for a while, turning up the heat to 94mph.
The teenager was delighted just to get on in his first international for six months.
"That was a ridiculous first over, I wasn't sure I was going to get a bowl", he said.
Cummins has added confidence to his game and says he's more sure of his role in the side.
"That's come from training every day with James Pattinson, Clint McKay, Mitchell Johnson and the guys.
"And to play with Brett Lee, who's been the face of fast bowling in Australia for a good while is brilliant.
"He's got such raw pace and he's a great competitor. I pick his brains every day, and he's great for tips."
O'Brien clipped Cummins classily to square leg for four as the pair took their repair job partnership into the thirties.
Stirling flayed Cummins through backward point, but followed the next ball and Michael Clarke took off and held a blinding catch wide to his right.
"You feel safe with guys like that in the slips", Cummins grinned.
And just as the Cricket Ireland accountant sighed with relief as the ten over refund barrier was passed, the rain returned with the score on 36-3 and the players were forced from the field, never to return.