England's arrival in Belfast last night for tomorrow’s one-day international against Ireland could hardly have been more different to the euphoric events at The Oval on Sunday night when a capacity crowd hailed the return of the Ashes.
All interview opportunities were turned down as the players made their way to the coach which took them to their five-star hotel and only Paul Collingwood, the captain of the one-day side, was made available for today’s pre-match Press conference.
It was not so much the arrival of the conquering heroes, more the low-key entrance of a circumspect squad stepping into the unknown.
And they have every right to be wary. Collingwood may be one of six members of the side that won the final Test against Australia in this week’s 14-man squad, but remarkably, he is the only survivor from the team that provided the opposition in Ireland’s first ODI at Stormont three years ago.
Only two other players have faced Ireland before in an international, Jimmy Anderson and Ravi Bopara, who played in the World Cup Super Eight match in Guyana in March 2007. Of the rest Eoin Morgan knows more than most about the Ireland squad, all of them former team-mates during his 63 appearances for Ireland.
Since his last, at the World Cup Qualifying tournament in South Africa just four months ago, he has played four times for the Three Lions, but has yet to establish himself in the squad and, after his worst run for Middlesex since his county debut in 2006, he can only hope that sentiment will play a part and he regains his place in tomorrow’s starting line-up.
No matter what team Ireland are up against though — and with Ashes heroes Stuart Broad, Graham Swann, Matt Prior and, awaiting his ODI debut, Jonathan Trott in the squad — it will be a classy outfit, but one that will hold no fears for the home line-up.
In 2006, Ireland were the new kids on the block, England the team with all the big names and the star attractions for the 7,000 spectators. Slightly less will pack Stormont tomorrow, but this time they are coming not just to see the Ashes winners, they are coming to see an Ireland victory.
It would still be a mighty upset — the 10th ranked team in the world, in only their 40th ODI, are hosting the fourth best, playing their 510th — but it would not be a huge surprise. In each of the previous two games, the margin has been less than 50 runs and Ireland come into the game on the back of an emphatic victory of their own.
Scotland were barely second in Aberdeen on Saturday when Ireland dismissed them for 109 to win by 96 runs and the team will be even stronger tomorrow with the inclusion of Northamptonshire’s Niall O’Brien, who scored 63 in the World Cup game against England and hopefully Boyd Rankin if he recovers from his groin injury.
Both are in form, with O’Brien bettering both Collingwood and Prior by scoring 50 against the Australians and Rankin being denied a possible seven wickets in an innings for Warwickshire last week by his injury.
He left the field with five.
No one is in better form than William Porterfield, the captain, who last night missed out on a fourth successive half century by just three runs when batting for Gloucestershire in their Pro40 game against Hampshire. He was 12th man at Stormont the last time England were here. What a difference three years makes.
If Ireland believe, they can have a third win against a Test nation and send England home as quietly as they arrived.
The game starts at 10.45am and last night less than 200 tickets were still available for sale.