England finish series whitewash but Irish pride restored
When Kevin O'Brien hit his fifth ball for his second six, the thousands of Ireland supporters among the 20,000 at Lord's last night dared to dream. Could history really repeat itself?
Of course not! Lightning rarely strikes twice and O'Brien's heroics when Ireland scored 329 for seven to beat England in the World Cup are now six years ago. O'Brien hasn't scored an international hundred since and Ireland haven't beaten a top-eight side outside a tournament.
Ireland were also chasing 329 yesterday in Ireland's first one-day international at the Home of Cricket but that was where the coincidence started and finished.
England completed a comfortable 2-0 series victory but at least it was a much-improved Ireland display, with captain William Porterfield defiantly making 82 while wickets fell around him. In the end they fell 85 runs short but respectability after the horror show in Bristol on Friday was achieved.
But this was a day when the result was almost secondary. Eleven years after the teams met in Ireland's first ODI, at Stormont, Ireland had arrived at cricket's HQ and the fans, in the London sunshine, were there to enjoy themselves with the promise of games like this becoming a regular occurrence.
When Ireland reached 200, the chants went up from the Irish fans: "Give us Test status". So another hiding could not be contemplated and, to be fair to the players, it was never really on, even when O'Brien, going for a third six from his 10th delivery, skied one to square leg and departed for 18, the first and only victim of the day for Adil Rashid in his eighth over.
England's five-wicket hero from Friday conceded 68 runs in his first ever 10-spell for England but it looked as if the Ireland batsmen had spent so much time working out how to play Rashid that they forgot about Test captain Joe Root's part-time off spin which earned him his best figures in an England shirt of 3-52.
"We carried on where we left off with the ball in Bristol and stayed in the game," said Porterfield, "and today, at least we didn't hand them wickets, we made them work for it. But we were always one or two wickets behind where we wanted to be."
But while the captain admitted it was an occasion to remember, he stressed everyone wanted more.
"Walking through the Long Room and down the steps is something many of the lads will take away from the day. It certainly raised the hairs on the back of your neck. It is a special place to come and play but we want to be doing it on a regular basis."
Ireland had made one change for the game with Barry McCarthy replacing Stuart Thompson and Ireland's most successful bowler from last summer finished with the best figures of the day. He celebrated the wicket of Jason Roy in his first over and added the prize scalp of Eoin Morgan for figures of two for 61.
Tim Murtagh, on his home ground, bowled a superb opening spell to keep the England openers in check and he was rewarded with the wicket of Alex Hales but again the most impressive bowler on view was Peter Chase who had the most economical figures but had to be satisfied with the lone wicket of man of the match Joe Root.
All three of England's middle order reached 70 but it was Johnny Bairstow's 72 not out from 44 balls that took the game away from Ireland and put the batsmen under immediate pressure.
Not that you would have known it the way Paul Stirling started the reply. Seven of his first nine scoring strokes were boundaries, including three in a row off David Willey and after suffering against Mark Wood on Friday, his huge six over mid-wicket was the most satisfying stroke of his 42-ball innings.
Ed Joyce was happy to play second fiddle in the best opening partnership against England for 15 years but will have been devastated to be bowled by Root's fourth ball after facing 43 for just 16.
The middle order again could not reach 20 and that is one area which must improve if Ireland are to have any success in the tri-series against Bangladesh and New Zealand, which starts at Malahide on Friday.