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Ireland earn famous World Cup win over England with a little help from Melbourne rain


This most unpredictable and competitive T20 World Cup continues to thrill. This was the first meeting between England and Ireland at a major men’s tournament in more than a decade, and while a weather-impacted finish and a bare MCG meant this win lacked the pulsating delight of the Kevin O’Brien-inspired heist in Bangalore of 2011, this was no less of a famous Irish triumph – the better team on a dank Melbourne evening bust Group 1 wide open.

Rain had curtailed the last competitive meeting between the two sides in Guyana in 2010, granting an English side in the mire what proved a vital reprieve, but the intervention from the heavens here was far more welcome for Ireland – victory sealed with a nod of the head from the umpires and a handshake between the captains as the drizzle came down steadily.

It looked at the halfway stage like Andy Balbirnie’s side might have contrived to throw away a position of strength after collapsing to 157 all out and failing to see out their 20 overs. But a group of talented Irish bowlers used conditions to their advantage to rip through England’s wobbly top order and script another outstanding win.

It was in the opening overs of each innings that the match was decided, as is becoming a trend in this competition. Where England had missed their lines and lengths with the new ball, Ireland pushed their lengths full, taking advantage of favourable conditions and a white ball that appears prone to frolic in the moist Australian spring.

First to fall was the England captain Jos Buttler, feathering behind the impressive Josh Little, before a skyward Alex Hales hack off the left-armer fell safely into the hands of Mark Adair. When a gem of a delivery from Fionn Hand corkscrewed through Ben Stokes’ flat-footed push, England were 29-3 and Ireland firmly on top.

A period of rebuilding from Dawid Malan and Harry Brook kept England alive but the pair struggled to generate scoring options. With the required rate pushing up towards 10, Brook and Malan opted to attack George Dockrell’s left-arm spin immediately after the drinks break. Lives were granted to both batters as Irish hands failed to grasp a damp ball, but Gareth Delany at deep midwicket made sure to remove Brook. A top edge then accounted for Malan for 35.

Given the depth of England’s batting order, another fine MCG finish looked like it may be in store, particularly when Moeen Ali strutted to the crease in ominous flow, taking 12 from the first three balls of the 15th over. But the elements intervened with England five in arrears on DLS. It is a defeat that may prove crucial in a highly competitive group that is likely to be further weather-impacted – with Australia next up on Friday.

“In the first 10 overs with the ball, I thought we were poor,” Buttler told Sky Sports. “We let Ireland get away. I don’t think we were consistent enough, we let them score both sides of the wicket. We had everything in our favour, winning the toss, and we didn’t take advantage of that. They out-played us in all three facets of the game – the better team won today.”

While there is little time to lick their wounds, Buttler feels there is little sense in trying to hide their emotions. “We should let it hurt,” he said. “Days like this one are really, really disappointing and you’ve got to feel that. There’s no point saying ‘let’s sweep it under the carpet and move on’.

“Certainly the expectation was on us to win the game. We should be expecting to beat an Ireland team – we expected a challenge but we should be expected to win that game so that adds extra disappointment.”

An unchanged England had, predictably, opted to chase with rain in the air, Ireland raced out of the blocks, with Balbirnie and Lorcan Tucker to the fore, pouncing particularly on an oddly erratic Chris Woakes after two early weather interruptions.

After the early departure of Paul Stirling to Mark Wood for 14, Balbirnie and Tucker played smartly, working the spaces of the large MCG playing area with smart, powerful ball striking, and at 59-1 after the opening six overs, Ireland looked to be eyeing an imposing score.

But Adil Rashid and Wood, again producing a pyroclastic spell, were able to stem the flow, before Liam Livingstone catalysed a more complete Irish collapse, showing his value to the England side with an accurate spell of leg-spin against a right-hander-heavy Irish batting order.

Captain Andy Balbirnie made a fine half-century for Ireland

(Getty)

A deflection onto the stumps from Rashid at the bowler’s end brought an unfortunate end to an enterprising stay from Tucker, before Wood’s extra pace drew a nick from the newly-arrived Curtis Campher. Having not been required with the ball against Afghanistan, it was then over to Livingstone to catalyse a more complete Irish collapse. The all-rounder struck twice in two balls in his first over. Captain Balbirnie holed out to the long square leg boundary before he fizzed a leg-spinning yorker beneath George Dockrell’s bat.

Their captain’s departure, for a well-constructed 62 from 47 balls, precipitated the loss of seven Irish wickets for 25 runs, with Sam Curran bowling both Barry McCarthy and Fionn Hand and leaving England needing what looked an about-par 158. As it happened, Ireland had just enough.

“We were slightly disappointed losing seven wickets for not a lot,” Balbirnie reflected. “It was tough, they’ve got some express pace and different variations but we managed to ride our luck a bit and we were able to get a competitive total, and a winning total.”

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