Cricket: Eoin savours special win on home soil
Eoin Morgan returned home and led England to victory in the RSA Challenge yesterday but the Dubliner, captaining his adopted country for the first time, was one of the few who left Castle Avenue last night fully satisfied.
Both Morgan and Ireland skipper William Porterfield had every sympathy for the 4,800 paying spectators, drying out at the end of a frustrating day in which only 65 overs were bowled.
There were actually only two interruptions, but many false restarts, before Ireland came up a tantalising 11 runs short of their reduced target.
In the end, as Porterfield admitted, the weather probably worked against Ireland in their final pursuit of 129 from 23 overs.
Ireland had already lost one of their ace cards — Paul Stirling — before rain halted the run chase at 42 for two after 13 overs so, in effect, they were chasing 87 in just 10 overs, admittedly with eight wickets left and both England opening bowlers Chris Woakes and Steven Finn bowled out.
When Kevin O’Brien came in and hit his third and fourth balls for six, the spectators dared to dream of a repeat of his heroics in Bangalore last March when England were forced to surrender. Could he really do it on home soil?
Unfortunately the answer was ‘no’. Two fours and 11 balls later it was all over, a superb yorker from Jade Dernbach breaching his defences.
There was still John Mooney, who actually finished the job in Bangalore, and he also hit a sweet maximum over mid-wicket to warm up the spectators again.
With a bit more conviction, Mooney could have hit another six but he just held back enough in his attempt to clear long-off and Ben Stokes, one of three England debutants, coolly held the catch which effectively won the match.
Ireland’s only other six of the day was hit, inevitably, by Stirling, from the first ball he could reach, but county team mate Finn bowled a fuller and straighter one two balls later and he was gone.
The vital wicket, though, as both captains admitted, was O’Brien’s.
Morgan said: “O’Brien likes playing spin so we had to change it around. The wicket helped the slower ball and that was a good one by Dernbach.”
Porterfield concurred: “Another couple of overs against the spinners and the game could have been over pretty quickly but the seamers were difficult to get away if they bowled straight on a good length and it was moving around.”
The easiest batting of the day, as it turned out, came early before the heaviest rain and it was to Ireland’s credit that Mooney and Boyd Rankin each took a wicket in their opening spell to reduce England to 34 for two.
But then England’s two most experienced players took over and gave a batting masterclass.
Jonathan Trott, happy to grind it out at one end, was the perfect foil for Morgan and the Irishman scored his first 50 at Castle Avenue from just 52 balls, including six fours and a six.
Not for the first time, however, the fielding team’s secret weapon was the drinks break. It came after 30 overs with England on 136 for two.
Two balls later Stirling dived full length to his left to hold a stunning catch to dismiss his former team-mate and in the next over Nigel Jones had Ravi Bopara caught behind for just two.
Jones was called in to replace Trent Johnston — who is to have an operation on his injured knee
in October and is targeting a comeback in the World Twenty20 qualifiers in March — and his selection was fully justified with figures of two for 32 and he was the only player to bowl his full quota of nine overs.
Morgan said: “Jones was tricky to get away and Stirling’s spell of bowling turned the match on its head and stopped us getting as many as we wanted.”
Stirling also took a return catch to dismiss Stokes, and it was Mooney who returned to end Trott’s resistance in the 40th over of a game by now reduced to 42 overs.
The last word, however, must go to Morgan, after his first experience of playing in his home city for England.
He said: “I’m overjoyed with the win.
“It’s been a great day for us and I’ve been welcomed with open arms.
“People here have never held grudges since I played for England so I expected it.”