I had intended that the second part of my End of an Era article would be my take on Ireland’s journey to Test status from the qualification tournament in 2005 when Ireland first qualified for a World Cup up until this time last year.
However, before I do that, the announcement of the Test match squad last Friday morning compels me to give my views on the squad. Last week I wrote that it was my belief that the players who had been instrumental in helping Ireland to achieve that status should play in the match irrespective of current form. It would be a well deserved reward for those who changed the course of Ireland’s cricket history.
The Ireland selectors, led by new Chairman of Selectors Andrew White, didn’t see it like that and picked a squad that included several players whose selection certainly surprised whose of us who were at the press conference. It is fair to say that the biggest shocks were the selections of Tyrone Kane and Nathan Smith. It was equally a shock, not least to be players themselves, to hear that George Dockrell and Barry McCarthy in particular had been omitted from the squad. To compound their omission the reasons given do not stand up to scrutiny. White was not at the press conference and the questions were fielded by Coach Graeme Ford. When asked to explain the rationale behind Dockrell’s omission, Ford said that Dockrell was unlucky but seemed to imply that his recent form for Ireland had not been good enough to warrant selection on this occasion.
I then asked the question as to why Gary Wilson was selected if recent Ireland form was the key determinate. The bizarre answer was that Wilson was experienced and that he had got a fifty for Derbyshire a few days earlier. I pointed out that Wilson hadn’t got a 50 against a FM since October 2015 but he effectively repeated his first answer. Ford appears to be suggesting that current form only stretches back to your last match and indifferent form for most of the previous two years should be ignored.
In the first part of this article I set out the statistics in relation to both Dockrell and Wilson’s form for Ireland over the past year. Clearly these have been ignored. The experience argument also doesn’t hold water. Dockrell has 182 Ireland caps and only nine other Ireland players in history have more despite Dockrell only being twenty five years of age.
If the criterion is that selection is to be based on your previous game then there would have been an even more controversial squad announced last week. For example Ed Joyce had a poor game with the bat in the Inter-pro last week as did William Porterfield yet there was no suggestion, rightly so, that they should have omitted from the squad.
The selection of Tyrone Kane and Nathan Smith ahead of Barry McCarthy, Craig Young and Peter Chase also doesn’t stand up to closer investigation. Bear in mind that we are talking here about multi-day attritional red ball cricket. Barry McCarthy is one of only three Ireland bowlers playing first class cricket in England. Last weekend McCarthy took his 51st wicket for Durham in just his 15th game. He has got his wickets at an average under 30, an economy rate of 3.7 and a strike rate of 47.
Nathan Smith has played just five first class games – 4 for Northern Knights in 2017 and one for Ireland Wolves in Bangladesh last October. In those five games he has bowled 96 overs and has taken 8 wickets at an average of 33.8, an economy rate of 2.8 and a strike rate of 72. I have watched Smith bowl on a number of occasions and he reminds me of a slightly quicker version of another Australian born player, Alex Cusack. Accurate and doing a little with the ball both ways he shows promise but his experience at International level is minimal and it really is a punt by his club colleague Andrew White which heaps a mountain of pressure on the young man.
Tyrone Kane has only played in three first class matches, all for Leinster Lightning – two last season and one this season. He has taken 9 wickets from 74 overs at an average of 23, an economy rate of 2.8 and a strike rate of 49. Strangely he comes into the squad not having an Ireland or Leinster Lightning contract. I have also watched Kane bowl and he too shows promise although it would appear that his performance in last months Test trial in Merrion where he got five wickets elevated him to this squad. He is a bustling skiddy bowler who comes on to the bat quicker than expected.
While Smith and Kane’s bowling records look decent for players starting out in the first class game they suggest potential rather than Test standard. The reality is that McCarthy has bowled a lot more overs and taken many more wickets at a much higher standard than either Smith or Kane. When asked to explain his omission Ford said that they wanted control clearly implying that McCarthy was too expensive. However they are obviously judging him on his ODI record were he does concede at over 5 runs an over but has a strike rate of 25 which is in the top ten of all time in ODI cricket. Ireland cannot afford to leave out one of their proven best red ball bowlers.
Both Craig Young and Peter Chase can feel aggrieved as they have regularly been in Ireland squads for several years and Young in particular has had a good start to the season both for his club and for North-West Warriors for whom he bowled very well last week taking 4-93 in the match.
There now appears to be different standards applied to selection. For this Test, match performances in white ball cricket are taken into consideration for some players but ignored for others. Yet there is an entirely different dynamic required for red ball cricket and Ireland cannot afford to ignore players who have proven themselves adept at it.
Originally it was supposed to be a 13 man squad but that was increased by one at the announcement. I suspect the additional name was Stuart Thompson who scored a fine hundred in the Inter-pro last week to add to one for his club the previous weekend.
It was less of a surprise to see James Shannon in the squad as he had an excellent Inter-pro series last season and was in Zimbabwe for the ill fated WCQ, although he never got a game. However if current form is the criterion then Jack Tector must have been in consideration after his two half centuries in last week’s Inter-pro.
The probability is that Kane, Thompson and Shannon will be left out of the final team. I suspect that Smith is viewed by Ford as a more potent back up to Murtagh and Rankin and will get his chance.
However the potential issue raised by Ger Siggins in the excellent four page supplement in the Sunday Independent gives cause for concern. He senses that this selection could signal a return to the parochialism that inhibited the development of Irish cricket in the past but seemed to have disappeared over the last decade. Back then the three main provinces were usually equally represented irrespective of current form. There are certainly parallels in this squad. I hope Ger is wrong although I fear he may also be right.
Can Ireland win this match? It is possible but unlikely. It was Ireland’s success in the white ball game, particularly against Test sides, that propelled them to this status. Granted they also had a superb record in the four day Intercontinental Cup matches but they were up against Associate sides. While there was a time a few years ago that most of the Ireland team were playing regular 4 day County Championship matches that is certainly not the case now.
Last season only Murtagh, Wilson, Stirling, Rankin and Porterfield played County Cricket and between them appeared in a total of 39 matches out of a possible 70. This season only the first three in that list have been chosen with Porterfield now playing club cricket in England.
Adjusting to the standard required at Test level is very difficult even if you are a new cap coming into an established Test side. It will be even more difficult when ten of the team are making their debuts. I am told that the hardest part is increasing and maintaining your concentration levels.
Pakistan has probably their least experienced side for many years. Of the 16 men in the squad five have never played in a Test while four others have a total of 10 caps between them. Their inspirational captain Misbah-ul-Haq has retired as has Younis Khan who is the only Pakistani to aggregate more than 10,000 Test runs. Now led by wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed they also have exciting proven batsmen in Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali. The bowling attack is led by Mohammad Amir who has made a successful return after his five year ban for his part in match fixing. Watch out also for seamer Hasan Ali who has only two Test caps but has already become the fourth ranked ODI bowler.
While Yasir Shah is injured and misses the trip his replacement as leading spinner is taken by another leg-spinner in Shadab Khan who took ten wickets in the warm up match against Northamptonshire which finished on Monday.
The Pakistanis will be wary of the experience of Murtagh and Rankin if, as is likely, there is help for the seamers especially in the first innings. However they will believe that if they can see off Ireland’s opening pair without too much damage they can capitalise on the inexperience of the support bowlers.
A draw would be a terrific result for Ireland given the difficulty of new Test teams in coming to terms with the intensity. Anything more would be sensational.
The weather this bank holiday weekend in Dublin was perfect for cricket and while the forecast is less optimistic it is sure to be a great occasion and deserves the support of the cricketing community and hopefully many others who are curious as to why the sport is now taking centre stage.
The First Class records of the Ireland squad as follows:
- William Porterfield – 6,230 runs @30.5, 9 centuries, 33 fifties, HS 186, 138 catches.
- Ed Joyce – 18,414 runs @48.1, 47 centuries, 92 fifties, HS 250, 227 catches.
- Andy Balbirnie – 841 runs @32.3, 2 centuries, 3 fifties, HS 205*, 17 catches, 10 wkts @17.9 BB 4-23.
- Niall O’Brien – 8,823 runs @35.6, 15 centuries, 46 fifties, HS 182, 483 catches, 48 stumpings.
- Paul Stirling – 2,583 runs @28.7, 5 centuries, 13 fifties, HS 146, 31 catches, 25 wkts @42.4, BB 2-27.
- Kevin O’Brien – 1,781 runs @37.1, 1 century, 13 fifties, HS 171*, 33 catches, 44 wkts @28, BB 5-39.
- Gary Wilson – 4,476 runs @35, 3 centuries, 28 fifties, HS 160*, 179 catches, 5 stumpings.
- Andy McBrine – 344 runs @24.6, 2 fifties, HS 67, 10 catches, 18 wkts @38.3, BB 4-63.
- Tim Murtagh – 3,792 runs @19.4, 10 fifties, HS 74*, 60 catches, 712 wkts @26.5, BB 7-82.
- Boyd Rankin – 674 runs @9.2, 1 fifty, HS 56*, 28 catches, 344 wkts @26.4, BB 6-55. 1 Test, 13 email@example.com, HS 13, 1 wkt @81, BB 1-47.
- Nathan Smith – 45 runs @9, HS 22*, 1 catch, 8 wkts @33.8, BB 4-34.
- James Shannon – 682 runs @48.7, 1 century, 6 fifties, HS 140*, 3 catches.
- Tyrone Kane – 128 runs @42.7, 1 fifty, HS 75, 2 catches, 9 wkts @23.4, BB 3-45.
- Stuart Thompson – 455 runs @30.3, 1 century, HS 148, 6 catches, 19 wkts @39.9, BB 3-32.
- George Dockrell – 693 runs @15.4, 1 fifty, HS 53, 21 catches, 172 wkts @ 28.5, BB 6-27.
- Barry McCarthy – 390 runs @24.4, 1 fifty, HS 51*, 7 catches, 51 wkts @29.9, BB 6-63.
- Peter Chase – 73 runs @10.4, HS 16, 5 catches, 34 wkts @29.7, BB 5-64.
- Craig Young – 62 runs @8.9, HS 23, 1 catch, 43 wkts @23.2, BB 5-37.
The journey to this point includes many great memories for those who have followed the fortunes of Ireland cricket for many years. There is no shortage of great players and matches going back to the first Ireland capped International in September 1855. However I am only going to reminisce about the achievements since the beginning of this era in 2005.
Some of these are the obvious ones such as Trent Johnston smashing a six into the Sabina Park stands to finish off Pakistan, Kevin O’Brien’s world record century that helped devastate England and the sight of Ireland’s top order clinically dismantling the West Indies attack in Nelson in 2015.
I have many personal memories of that era that was initially nurtured by Mike Hendrick and then brought to the next level by Adi Birrell. After three previously unsuccessful attempts Ireland finally made it at the 2005 Qualifier as one of the six (yes you read that right) Associate teams who qualified for the West Indies in 2007.
A major factor in the successful qualification was the performance of Ed Joyce, who while in the process of qualifying to play International cricket for England, still managed to play 5 matches in the Tournament and his two hundreds and two fifties contributed to a Bradmanesque average of 99.75.
Ironically the next time that Joyce would encounter Ireland was on his ODI debut for England against the country of his birth in Ireland’s inaugural ODI match while his brother Dominick made his debut for Ireland.
The 2007 adventure remains, in my view, the most remarkable achievement throughout this era. There were many great days and Tournaments after this but the fact that the success of 2007 was delivered by a squad of primarily amateur club players will always remain unique.
A fifteen man squad set off to Jamaica in early March 2007 more in hope than genuine expectation of emerging from their four team group to contest the Super Eights. Adi Birrell was insistent that while Ireland probably couldn’t match the strength of the Full Member sides in relation to batting and bowling, there was no reason that they should be inferior in fielding.
Birrell was helped greatly by having Trent Johnston as the captain. An uncompromising Australian, Johnston didn’t do social cricket and if you were not there to try to win you were of no use to him. His fellow Aussie Jeremy Bray had also played for New South Wales while Dave Langford-Smith had First Grade experience in Sydney and the non Ireland born quartet was completed by Andre Botha who had first come from his native Johannesburg to play for Clontarf in his late teens.
All four of the lads from the Southern Hemisphere were in their thirties by then and between them had many years of league and cup cricket in Ireland under their belts. The eleven native born players was headed by the wily Kyle McCallan who was the nominated vice-captain while fellow 30+ veterans Peter Gillespie and Paul Mooney provided a hard core of experience to the eight players still in their twenties.
Those eight were the O’Brien brothers Niall and Kevin, fellow Dubliners Paul Mooney’s brother John, Eoin Morgan and Kenny Carroll. William Porterfield and Boyd Rankin from the North-West, and Newtownards man Andrew White completed the squad.
The sixteen teams were divided into four groups of four with the top two in each group qualifying for the Super Eights. Ireland’s first opponents were Zimbabwe in what turned out to be the most important match in their history and set the team on a journey that was beyond the imagination of even the most optimistic of Irish supporters.
Thanks largely to Jeremy Bray carrying his bat for 115 Ireland set a target of 222 which was considered about 30 below par especially against a Test side. Two early easy catches dropped and a couple of expensive misfields signalled Ireland’s nervousness and brought disparaging comments from the TV commentators. With Zimbabwe needing just 115 from 27 overs with eight wickets in hand those same commentators were engaged in a discussion about the doubtful value of “minnows” in the World Cup. Despite three wickets in six overs which give Ireland hope, a stand of 70 between Stuart Matsikenyeri and Brendan Taylor took Zimbabwe to the brink of victory needing just 19 runs off 39 balls and five wickets in hand.
Then the clichéd “luck of the Irish” took centre stage. Matsikenyeri had smashed the previous ball from Kyle McCallan straight back past him for four and then repeated the shot but this time McCallan got fingertips to it deflecting it onto the stumps and Taylor was run out.
A four of the last ball of that over reduced the target to 15 from 6 overs and at this point Trent Johnston brought himself and Andre Botha back into the attack to finish their spells. Superb tight bowling from the pair and mind numbing indecision from the batsmen meant only six runs were conceded in the next four overs with Botha removing Gary Brent plumb LBW with the third ball of the 48th over.
However with Johnston and Botha having both completed their ten overs – remarkably with exactly the same analysis of 10-2-32-1 – the question was who would bowl the final two overs? Johnston still had overs available from his opening bowlers Dave Langford-Smith and Boyd Rankin while his premier spinner McCallan was also still an option.
However he turned to Kevin O’Brien who’s only previous over – the 43rd – had gone for nine runs including a leg bye. Incredibly O’Brien’s over was a maiden and two wickets fell. Matsikenyeri was stranded at the non-strikers end on 66 and he watched on as total panic enveloped his team mates at the other end. Zimbabwe skipper Prosper Utseya slapped the first ball of the over, a knee high full toss, straight to Eoin Morgan at short cover and new batsman Chris Mpofu spent the rest of the over trying to invent new ways of getting out.
He finally succeeded on the last ball of the over when he smacked the ball to mid-on and ran as fast as he could to the other end only to find that when he got there Matsikenyeri, determined to face the last over, was standing watching him with an incredulous look on his face.
So Zimbabwe needed nine to win while one wicket for Ireland would result in an astonishing win in their first World Cup match. Despite having three front line options to bowl that final over he surprised everyone in going to Andrew White who hadn’t bowled since the 29th over.
In the excellent record of Ireland’s World Cup journey “Raiders of the Caribbean” Johnston described to co-author Ger Siggins his reasoning behind his decision. “Still nine to win, and I turned to Andy because he was the one I reckoned would be able to bowl the ball on a 5 cent coin – but he bowled some awful rubbish that last over.”
The first ball was a full toss that Matsikenyeri hammered through cover but was hauled in just short of the boundary causing him to turn down the third as he wanted to stay on strike. Seven to win from five balls.
The second ball was a long hop outside off which was savagely cut to deep point but a diving stop on the boundary meant only two were scored. Five required off four balls.
The third ball was spooned in the air to mid-wicket. It looked as if Boyd Rankin was going to catch it but he hesitated, probably worried that if he dived forward and missed the ball it could cost three runs. The ball fell just short of him and in the confusion the batsmen ran one meaning that Matsikenyeri was now on 71 but had lost the strike. Four required from three balls.
Ed Rainsford, Zimbabwe’s number eleven was playing in his 25th ODI and in his thirteen innings had never reached double figures. Before the fourth delivery the batsmen had an animated discussion although all of the words seemed to be coming from Matsikenyeri.
It was another poor ball and easily pushed through cover bringing Matsikenyeri back on strike. Equation now down to three needed of two balls.
The penultimate ball of the match was, in my opinion, the ball that changed the course of Ireland cricket. It was short and wide and Matsikenyeri slashed hard at it and got a thick top edge. Johnston had stationed himself on the edge of the circle more short third man than backward point. The ball was flying over his left shoulder as he back peddled. He leapt to his left and backwards and just got his fingertips to it preventing its certain passage to the boundary and defeat for his team. Had he been three inches shorter or mistimed his leap by a fraction of a second it was game over.
The two runs off that penultimate ball meant that the scores were tied.
Here is Johnston’s description of that final ball “Nine times out of ten Matsikenyeri would have hit that last ball out of the park. It was a half volley, and Whitey couldn’t turn a bottle top. He just held the ball across the seam and speared it in. But Matsikenyeri swung so hard that he missed the ball – Nobby went for the stumping but the batsman had never left his crease. But then the non-striker, Rainsford, just took off and came right down the pitch towards his team mate. Nobby kept a cool head and lobbed it back to Andy, who smashed the stumps. Scores level and a tie secured.”
What happened in those final two balls changed everything although if Johnston hadn’t have pulled off the miraculous stop on the 5th ball the 6th would never have been bowled.
Defeat would have meant that Ireland would have gone into the Pakistan match without a point and the two points gained there would have ultimately left them in a tie for second place in the group alongside Zimbabwe and Pakistan. However Pakistan would have qualified on a marginally better run rate and Ireland would have gone home after the West Indies match.
There would have been no Super Eights and crucially they would never have beaten Bangladesh thereby not getting onto the ICC ODI ranking table for the following four years. This would have seriously inhibited the opportunities that did come about because of it, gaining experience and confidence against seasoned Full Member opposition. Being on the table had made it attractive for Full Members to play Ireland while there was nothing to gain for them in playing non ranked Associates. In the four years up to the 2011 World Cup Ireland played 16 ODI’s against Full Members while the unranked Scotland and Netherlands played just six between them. The experience gained in the first ten of those matches finally brought reward when Bangladesh were beaten in Stormont in July 2010 which strangely remains Ireland’s only win against a Full Member on home soil.
It is also questionable if the surge in growth in the game among younger people would have materialised if the extraordinary buzz in Ireland generated by their participation in the Super Eights had never happened. Yes beating Pakistan created a big stir but going on to prove that it wasn’t just a one off had a much bigger impact.
It is also an argument that if Ireland had fallen at the last hurdle against Zimbabwe the disappointment may have seen them not raising their game to the next level on St. Patrick’s Day. Coming back from a seemingly hopeless position felt in the end like a victory and brought with it a momentum that Pakistan found impossible to stop.
The Pakistan win was notable for a superb bowling display when all six bowlers used took at least one wicket each led by Boyd Rankin’s 3-32 off nine overs. However it was the spell of Andre Botha that suffocated the Pakistan batsmen. His spell of 8-4-5-2 included the wicket of the Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq who was caught at slip by Eoin Morgan for 1 from the third ball he faced. The spell remains the most economic by any Associate bowler in the history of the World Cup and also the second best by any bowler against a Test side.
The Pakistan innings finished on a humorous note when last man Umar Gul lofted Kyle McCallan to cow corner where substitute fielder John Mooney ran in, caught the ball and then while still on the run dropped it onto his foot and caught it again bringing a little bit of Croke Park to the Caribbean. He or anyway else could never have imagined that eleven years later he would be a member of the Afghanistan coaching team that helped dispatch his native country from the 2019 version of the World Cup.
Ireland held their nerve in the run chase largely thanks to Niall O’Brien who probably played the best ODI innings of his career. He broke the back of the target of 133 by attacking rather than defending and getting bogged down. He scored 72 from just 107 balls and the fact that the next highest score in the innings was 16 not out by his brother Kevin illustrates how crucial it was.
The impact of the match was brought home to me by my elder son Ruairi. Home on holiday from Australia he had been in O’Connor’s Bar in Celbridge celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with his mates. He arrived back home to watch the last hour of the match with me. While O’Connor’s is a sporting pub there would be more chance of the patrons demanding a documentary on Archimedes Principle to be shown on TV than wanting to see cricket.
However Ruairi told me that the match was on in the bar and the regulars were cheering Ireland on although as he said they didn’t really have much idea about what was going on.
The other standout memory from that Tournament was the victory over Bangladesh that put Ireland on the ODI ranking table. It was described by Adi Birrell as the most complete Ireland performance of his tenure. Ireland won the toss and batted and racked up a total of 243-7 which might seem small by today’s standards but back then before the advent of massive bats and smaller boundaries was a very good total. Porterfield made a large contribution to that total with a Man of the Match winning 85. Although the innings stalled a bit in the middle overs, Kevin O’Brien revived it with 48 off 44 balls assisted by Johnston whose 30 consumed only 23 deliveries. A quirky element of the innings was that 4 of the 7 wickets to fall were from run outs.
Ireland only needed five bowlers in the run chase and they regularly took wickets. The Bangladesh batsmen were overwhelmed by the tight bowling, ferocious fielding and the chicken dance. Dave Langford-Smith had the best figures – his ten overs yielding 2-27 – but in truth they all bowled magnificently.
The heroes of the Caribbean returned home to acclaim from many who barely knew what cricket was six weeks earlier and they also ended up on the Late Late Show. However the day jobs beckoned for many but the performances in the Tournament attracted the attention of the County sides and while some players had limited experience in England many more would appear on the radar and within a few years virtually the entire Ireland team were plying their trade across the water.
Looking back on that time with my memory refreshed by the excellent documentary Breaking Boundaries what stands out is the innocence and unbridled joy of the team agog at mixing in this company. The sight of Manager Roy Torrens trying to fish a cricket ball out of a flooded ditch always makes me smile. But that innocence also worked in their favour as they had nothing to lose. The Churchillian half time address in the Pakistan game by Johnston reminded them that a victory would see them there for another four weeks. They could live out a dream and avoid returning to anonymity when they got home.
Over the next four years Ireland broadened their experience with 41 ODI’s, qualification for the new T20I World Cup and the 4 day Intercontinental Cup which Ireland would go on to win on 4 occasions and would be a major factor in Ireland’s accession to Test status.
Phil Simmons was now coach and Porterfield had replaced the retired Trent Johnston. Although Johnston subsequently changed his mind and returned for the most successful period in the team’s history the captaincy remained with Porterfield who led with aplomb.
Ireland qualified comfortably for the 2011 WC held in the sub-continent and a very settled team with the addition of star batsman Ed Joyce returning to the fold augured well for the Tournament. Unfortunately in their opening game against Bangladesh Ireland failed to capitalise on an excellent bowling performance led by Botha and the precocious talent of 18 year old left arm spinner George Dockrell. Botha took3-32 in nine overs while Dockrell’s full quota of ten saw him take 2-23 and Bangladesh could only muster 205.
However the Ireland batting display was a disappointment with several batsmen getting a start but no one kicking on. Niall O’Brien with 38 and brother Kevin with 37 were the only two to get any sort of a meaningful score.
What happened next will always remain a part of legend in Ireland cricket. On March 2nd in Bangalore England looked like they were strolling to victory and there was an unmitigated arrogance about much of their play that day. When Ian Bell was dismissed of the final ball of the 43rd over England were on 278-3 and heading for 350. However Johnston and Mooney bamboozled the later batsmen who almost swung themselves off their feet not recognising the slower ball. Indeed counting the Bell wicket England lost six wickets in the final 43 balls for the addition of just 49 runs.
At the time it didn’t appear if that late fight back by the Ireland bowlers would make much impact on the outcome of the match as Ireland would need the largest run chase in World Cup history to win. A couple of hours later Ireland was scrambling to avoid a humiliating loss when they had been reduced to 111-5 from the second ball of the 25th over. Kevin O’Brien was on four when he was joined at the crease by Alex Cusack who in his previous 25 ODI innings had only ever scored one half century, 59 not out against Kenya the previous July. However he did have a reputation for sticking in and not giving away his wicket easily as nine scores of 30 or more would testify. Indeed he had 441 runs to his name by now at an average of 26, decent enough for someone whose primary role was as a bowler.
O’Brien believing there was nothing to lose just went for everything. Graeme Swann had tied the Ireland batsmen in knots and by the end of his eighth over had 3-26 and when Cusack arrived at the wicket Swann was smiling in anticipation of more wickets to add to his tally.
O’Brien decided that rather than see out his final two overs he attacked him hitting him for a four and two huge sixes. Swann’s last two overs cost him 22 runs. Then Cusack got in on the act and smashed Stuart Broad for two fours in an over. After 31 overs and Ireland on 167-5, just over halfway to their target, O’Brien surprised everyone and asked for the power play.
It was equally surprising that Andrew Strauss give the ball to the left arm spinner Michael Yardy especially with the restriction of the number of fielders outside the 30 yard circle. It was a nightmare over for Yardy as he went for wides, byes and effectively two free hits for four behind square on the leg side. Sixteen runs came off the over and the Cricinfo text commentator described England as agitated and irritated in equal measure.
Star strike bowler James Anderson was brought back to the attack and O’Brien smashed the 5th ball of the over high into the stand to bring up a thirty ball 50. The next ball was a Yorker and O’Brien just jammed his bat down on it. What happened next produced one of the iconic quotes in Irish cricket. As O‘Brien describes it in the book Six after Six written in conjunction with Ger Siggins the following exchange took place.
“Good ball Jimmy” I said to him.
Anderson’s face darkened and snapped back “What would you know what a good ball is?”
“Well I mightn’t know what a good ball is,” I came back with, “but I know a bad one. I just hit your last one over there,” as I pointed my bat towards the grandstand.
They weren’t happy. Matt Prior came up and told me to be quiet and I told him “if he’s going to give me rubbish, I’ll give it back.”
“Just keep batting ,” he said.
“Yeah I will,” I said.
And I did.
Yardy was dispatched to the outfield and Tim Bresnan tried his luck but conceded 13 runs including another six and four from O’Brien. If England were agitated a couple of overs earlier they were now apoplectic as Anderson’s next over disappeared for 17 runs with O’Brien yet again being the destroyer as the first of his two fours in the over brought up a 61 ball hundred partnership. O’Brien celebrated with a six that flew into the stand some 102 meters away. This time there was no comment from Anderson. The power play brought 62 runs and reduced the target to less than a hundred – 99 from 14 overs. 14 runs of the next over with another O’Brien four and six brought him to ninety of just 42 balls. The fastest ever World Cup century was on the cards.
Strauss decided to give the slow medium pace of Paul Collingwood another go reckoning that pace off the ball on a wearing wicket must be harder to hit than what had been served up in the previous hour. And it almost worked and indeed should have as O’Brien on 91 was deceived by the slower ball and skied it to long-off where Strauss caught it, juggled it and finally dropped it.
Strauss risked Yardy again but while he bowled a decent over he also dropped a return catch off Cusack. He celebrated by hitting a six over long-on off the first ball of Collingwood’s next over. Another O’Brien four off the final ball of that over raised the 150 partnership and now it was down to 65 required from 60 balls.
Yardy stayed on and after a Cusack boundary, O’Brien made World Cup history with the fastest ever hundred taking exactly 50 ball. To say that he and the Ireland players and supporters were ecstatic was putting it mildly. Three balls later the incredible stand came to an end by a run out. In all likelihood, the break in concentration celebrating O‘Brien’ s hundred, contributed to the misunderstanding and Cusack sacrificed his wicket to enable O’Brien to stay out there. Cusack’s contribution to this victory should never be underestimated.
As the saying goes “cometh the hour, cometh the man”. John Mooney strode to the wicket determined to be that man. He had only played a cameo role in 2007 and he was not going to be denied his day in the sun. With O’Brien clearly wilting in the heat, Mooney took centre stage. From the final ball of both the 44th and 45th overs Mooney slashed balls to the third man boundary.
Strauss was standing with his arms outstretched while I will never forget the look of bewilderment on Prior’s face as he tried to rationalise what was happening in front of him. Three more boundaries by Mooney followed in the next three overs this time all clean hits that sped to the fence like Exocet missiles.
It was now just a run a ball required from two overs. O’Brien pushed the first ball of the penultimate over towards square leg and shouted “two”. However by the time he had taken a couple of strides towards that second run it was clear that he was struggling and it looked like he was running in lead boots in quicksand. Despite a desperate dive he came up short. Thus ended the most astonishing innings that is ever likely to be played by an Ireland player in ODI’s no matter for long that format exists. As he had done four years previously in Kingston Johnston marched to the wicket with Ireland seven wickets down.
If Broad thought that England had been given a lifeline by O’Brien’s dismissal he was immediately dispelled of that notion by delivering a gentle full toss outside the off stump. Johnston slammed it through the covers to the boundary. Short of a miracle it was over. The first ball of the final over was clipped it to the mid-wicket boundary by Mooney and Bangalore erupted. It was the highest run chase in World Cup history and remains so. The arrogance on the faces of the England players was now replaced by disbelief and despair as the contemplated what their media would say about them the next day.
The Irish media had plenty to say and Cricket Ireland had to draft in Ger Siggins to assist Media Manager Barry Chambers in dealing with the avalanche of requests for interviews, comments etc.
Ireland remained in Bangalore for their next match which was against the host nation India. While the vast majority of the exuberant crowd had revelled in Ireland’s win over England it was a very different story when their own team was involved.
Having put Ireland into bat India struck quickly with Zaheer Khan causing all sorts of problems. With the third ball of the match he had Porterfield put down at slip and next ball the left-arm swing bowler produced a perfect inswinger to Stirling which ripped out his off stump. With the third ball of his next over he deceived Joyce with one that nipped back and Dhoni completed the catch.
However the boisterous crowd was quietened by a splendid partnership between Porterfield and Niall O’Brien. They had added 113 by the 27th over when Porterfield pushed the ball to cover where a sharp pick up and throw by Virat Kohli to Dhoni left O’Brien just short of his ground and four runs short of a fifty.
Unfortunately the batting never really recovered from the momentum breaker of the run out and apart from Porterfield’s fine 75 no one else contributed anything of significance. It was spin that swept the innings away despite seeing off India’s two main spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla. The pair had delivered a combined 17 overs and conceded 85 runs without taking a wicket. Frustratingly it was the occasional spin of Yuvraj Singh whose 5-31 that stopped Ireland in their tracks and left India with a mere 208 to chase.
With a stellar batting line-up, many in the crowd anticipated Ireland being swept away inside thirty overs. The shock was palpable when, off the first ball of the second over, Virender Sehwag chipped a return catch to Trent Johnston who then set off on his legendary celebratory chicken dance. Then with the second ball of his third over Johnston struck again when Gautam Gambhir whipped a ball off his pads and straight into the hands of Alex Cusack.
Johnston’s fifth over in the innings turned out to be a pivotal moment in the match. Johnston’s third ball of the over was driven to the mid-on boundary by Sachin Tendulkar. His next delivery was a real effort ball but in his follow through overbalanced and crashed to the ground. His knee was treated by the physio and he limped through the rest of his over but then had to leave the field and was unable to return. Those who had watched Johnston play would realise that if it had have been humanly possible he would have stayed on. He had taken 2-16 from his five overs and we will never know if the outcome of the match would have been different had he been fit to continue.
Tendulkar and Kohli took the score up to 87 after twenty overs without any further alarms. With the first ball of the next over Dockrell tossed the ball up on middle stump, Tendulkar missed with a sweep, and was plumb LBW. Three overs later Kohli and Yuvraj confused each other in trying to decide whether or not to take a single and a clearly disgruntled Kohli had to depart having run almost 30 yards while his partner only ran three.
Tension returned to the batting and was echoed in the crowd.MS Dhoni had joined Yuvraj and the next sixteen overs only yielded 65 runs with India determined not to repeat England’s mistakes. Then with the first ball of his final over Dockrell trapped Dhoni in front with the decision being upheld on review. Unfortunately new batsman Yusuf Pathan smashed a four and two sixes of the remainder of the over and took the air out of Ireland and put it back into the crowd.
Next up was the West Indies and Johnston’s injury meant he had to sit this one out. This turned out to be a match of missed chances for Ireland and also featured a bizarre umpiring decision that impacted the outcome. Porterfield won the toss and decided to bowl first. Tight bowling and the early morning conditions forced the openers into a cautious approach and by the penultimate ball of the tenth over West Indies had crawled to 23. In an attempt to break the shackles Devon Smith, on 10 off 33 balls, cracked a Cusack delivery straight to extra cover but the ball burst through Stirling’s hands. Smith went on to make the only century of his ODI career.
His partnership with Shivnarine Chanderpaul had reached 89 early in the 25th over when Kevin O’Brien struck twice in the same over first removing Chanderpaul and then ripping out Darren Bravo’s middle stump. The score had progressed to 167-3 by the second ball of the 38th over when Kieron Pollard, who had already crunched two sixes in his first nineteen balls, mistimed a flick off Andre Botha and skied it to long-on where Gary Wilson running to his left got both hands to the ball but put it down. Pollard smashed 75 runs of his next 35 balls and set Ireland a challenging target of 276 to win. However had those chances been taken West Indies would have struggled to reach 200.
Ireland lost Stirling and Porterfield relatively early but Joyce and Niall O’Brien took the score to 86 at which point O’Brien was bowled. Wilson joined Joyce and together they reduced the target to less than a hundred. With the score on 177 and with Andre Russell in his final over a superb leg stump Yorker deceived Joyce who departed for a fine 84. Although Kevin O’Brien went cheaply the target was further reduced to 77 off 51 balls – difficult but not impossible – when an astonishing decision by umpire Asoka de Silva effectively ended Ireland’s chances of victory.
Wilson had batted magnificently and at this stage had a run a ball 61. The Cricinfo commentator describes what happened next.
“Sammy to Wilson, OUT, Sammy might have done it for WI. LBW appeal given and referred. This seemed adjacent. Or did it? Sammy lands this outside off and moves it in off the seam. Wilson has pushed outside the line and gets the pad outside the line. Wilson should be safe. Or is he? Asoka, as always has a surprise up his sleeve. He says the original decision stays. Wilson is flabbergasted after seeing the replay on the giant screen, and implored Asoka to check again. He was offering some kind of a shot at it, the late dab that he's played all day. Asoka is unmoved. Sammy puts an arm on Wilson's shoulder, but can't calm the agitated Wilson. Eventually Asoka checks again upstairs. And in the end, after a review of the review of the original call, he's given it out. UDRS continues to confound. Asoka apparently thought Wilson wasn't playing a shot. If Wilson wasn't playing a shot there, then I am Bill Gates.”
I have always felt that at this point the match referee should have intervened and instructed the third umpire to overturn the clearly incorrect decision. DRS is pointless if a clear cut wrong decision is not overturned on review.
Ireland were punished by losing out on the chance of victory while de Silva was removed from his duties for this next two scheduled appointments. Cold comfort to Wilson and Ireland.
Inevitably the Ireland innings fell away and the 44 run defeat meant that Ireland would almost certainly have to win their final two matches in order to qualify for the knockout stages.
Sadly in the first of those games against South Africa, even with Johnston back, Ireland were never really in the game losing by 131 runs after being bowled out in the 34th over.
The final game was against the Netherlands when Ireland, for the second time in the tournament, chased down a total in excess of 300. A Ryan ten Doeschate hundred and 84 from Dutch skipper had propelled them to 306. There was an unprecedented finale to the innings with the final four wickets falling in the last three balls of Kevin O’Brien’s over, the first of which was a wide. Even more remarkably all four wickets were run outs.
However an opening stand of 177 by Porterfield – 68 off 93 balls – and Stirling with a 72 ball century broke the back of the chase. Niall O’Brien confirmed it with an unbeaten 57 from 58 balls and Ireland got home with fourteen balls and six wickets to spare.
Some missed chances and an appalling decision contributed to Ireland failing to reach the knockout stages but no one can ever take away the memory of the England victory and Kevin O’Brien’s innings for the ages.
Ireland returned home to concentrate on qualifying for the next World Cup which was to be held in 2015 in Australasia. However at this point the ICC had designated that this would be a ten team tournament and an Associate free zone. A concerted campaign led primarily by Ireland’s representatives eventually persuaded the ICC, no easy task, that the format would revert to the 2011 model with four Associate places on offer.
2013 was the most successful year in Ireland’s cricketing history. While the high profile wins in 2007 and 2011 put Irish cricket on the International map it was I believe the exploits of 2013 that were a major factor in obtaining Full Member status last year.
The ruthless efficiency of the team opened up a vast chasm between them and the other Associates. In the space of a few weeks at the end of the year William Porterfield lofted above his head three separate International trophies. Indeed but for a mishit and a couple of missed chances he would have had a quartet of silverware.
After a three format series in the UAE in March Ireland welcomed Pakistan to Clontarf for two ODI’s. In the first a rain interrupted Pakistan innings saw them reach 266-5 off 47 overs, largely thanks to an unbeaten 122 in 113 balls from Mohammad Hafeez and 84 off 89 from Asad Shafiq.
Set a DRS target of 275 also from 47 overs, Stirling reached his fifth ODI century with a blistering innings, taking only 102 balls to get there. However every time Ireland looked to be getting ahead in the chase they lost a wicket. But Kevin O’Brien was still there and this innings invoked memories of Bangalore in 2011.
At the start of the final over, bowled by spin maestro Saeed Ajmal, Ireland needed 15 to win with O’Brien on 71 from just 42 balls.
The first ball hit O’Brien on the knee and he caused him to require the physio.
The second ball he could only hit to long-on for a single which meant it was now 14 needed off 4 balls.
The third delivery was a leg stump full toss to Trent Johnston. Almost invariably he would have dispatched that ball over the Clontarf pavilion. Unfortunately this time he mistimed his shot and the ball trickled to deep square leg. 13 off three required.
O’Brien launched the next ball over the despairing leap of the long-on fielder and now it was 7 from two.
O’Brien targeted long-on again but this time the fielder got to the ball and only two runs were scored.
So four for a tie and six to win and despite all of his experience it was a visibly nervous Ajmal who prepared to bowl the final delivery. O’Brien swept hard and the ball flashed along the ground and into the media tent. Tie!!!
O’Brien’s 84 not out of 47 balls deservedly won him man of the match.
It was also probably the coldest I or most of my colleagues had ever been at an Ireland match. We were huddled over, shivering with the cold, trying to file reports as darkness descended, and the game finishing very late because of the several rain delays.
The second match on the following Sunday saw a distinct improvement in the weather and additional spice in the wicket.
Pakistan put Ireland into bat and were immediately rewarded as both Stirling and Porterfield were back in the pavilion by the second ball of the fourth over. However Joyce looked like he was batting on a different wicket to everyone else and finished up 116 not out off 132 balls. Other than the O‘Brien brothers no one else reached double figures. Niall added 65 with Joyce while Kevin shared a stand of 94.
Pakistan needing 230 to clinch the series got off to an even worse start than Ireland. Murtagh and Johnston were making the ball talk and the batsmen looked as if they were batting blindfolded. By the end of the tenth over Johnston and Murtagh had two wickets apiece and Pakistan were 21-4. And in that 10th over bowled by Johnston, apart from actually taking a wicket he had both surviving batsmen, skipper Misbah-ul -Haq and Shoaib Malik, missed at slip by Stirling and by keeper Wilson respectively. So it should have been 17-6. Pakistan crawled to 60 in the 21st over when Cusack removed Misbah and it was 5 down.
Kamran Akmal joined Shoaib and they progressed to 112 after 33 overs when Dockrell had Shoaib LBW. Cusack struck again with the final ball of the 37th over and now the equation was 97 needed of 78 balls with just three wickets in hand.
Left arm fast bowler Wahab Riaz joined Akmal as the majority of the crowd, who were supporting Pakistan, feared the worse. In his nineteen ODI innings to this point Wahab had aggregated just 145 runs at an average of 10.4 and he had had 7 ducks in that period. However two months and three innings earlier he had made his highest score, a 52 ball 45 which included five 4’s and a six against South Africa.
The wicket had also lost most of its venom. Akmal and Wahab went for everything and smashed the Ireland bowlers to all parts. Their partnership was 93 off 62 balls by the time Akmal was dismissed for 81 and a few balls later the match was over with Wahab left undefeated on 47 with 4 fours and 4 sixes.
A great chance missed by Ireland to win a home series against a FM but the lack of consistent death bowling again cost them and was to do again in the years to come.
Ireland headed to Amsterdam in July to seal their place at the 2015 World Cup. On the beautiful Amstelveen ground in glorious weather Ireland won the first of the two World Cricket League matches by 88 runs and clinched the point needed for qualification with a tie in the second match.
Next up was the iconic match in Malahide in September when some 10,000 spectators turned up in delightful autumn sunshine to see Trent Johnston’s last Ireland match in Dublin as the old enemy England came to town. Boyd Rankin made his ODI debut for England against his former teammates and he did them no favours when he took 4-46 off 9 overs. However a magnificent century by Porterfield and good contributions by the all-rounders got Ireland up to 269-7.
In a weird twist of fate Rankin dismissed Joyce as he had in the 2007 World Cup when Joyce made his England ODI debut. This time it was Rankin making his England ODI debut and Joyce was back in green.
In a great spell of new ball bowling Johnston and Murtagh reduced England to 27-3 after 10overs. Eoin Morgan, who had caused controversy in his press conference by suggesting that Stirling should consider declaring for England, edged Murtagh just wide of slip. If only an extra man had been stationed there given how much Murtagh in particular was doing with the ball.
Although Murtagh got another victim to leave the score at 46-4 that was as good as it got for Ireland. With Murtagh bowled out Morgan and Ravi Bopara savaged the remainder of the Ireland attack with Dockrell in particular coming in for severe punishment. The pair added 226 from just 169 balls and both reached their century as they reached their target with 42 balls to spare.
After disposing of Scotland in both the I Cup match and the final two WCL qualifiers Ireland headed to Abu Dhabi for the World T20 Qualifiers. Although they had a couple of close shaves Ireland won every match to lift the trophy. In the final Ireland scored what was then the highest total by an Associate in this format when they reached 225-7 and triumphed by 68 runs.
I vividly remember stepping outside the air-conditioned media centre in that final and alongside the great Waqar Younis watched as Ireland batsmen, Johnston especially, launched balls which looked like meteorites as they soared into the night sky. It was standing outside that had me realise the extent of the passion and intensity of the Afghanistan support as some ten thousand of their Diaspora roared their support for their heroes.
Trent Johnston’s odyssey with Ireland came to an end for the second and final time the following month up the road in Dubai when they again overcame Afghanistan in the Intercontinental Cup final and thus completed their treble of trophies. Unfortunately an Achilles injury sustained on the third day forced Johnston to sit on the sidelines for his final day in Ireland kit and he was unable to add to the wicket he had taken from his two overs the previous afternoon.
Ten wickets in the match from John Mooney sealed the win by 122 runs and Ireland ended the year as undisputed champions in the Associate world.
The following March in Bangladesh Ireland set out to get to the final stages of the T20 World Cup. It looked a certainty when, in what the ICC described as the first round, Ireland disposed of UAE and Zimbabwe. It appeared to be even more of a sure thing when they racked up 189-4 against Netherlands. What happened in the next hour and a half did so much damage to the Ireland bowling psyche that it is arguable that have never fully recovered from it.
The Dutch needed to get the runs inside 14.2 overs to eliminate both Ireland and Zimbabwe. With nothing really to lose they went on the attack from the first ball and so unnerved the Ireland bowlers that they got home in 13.5 overs. I have spoken to a few of the Ireland players about it since and the word surreal crops up regularly.
So onto the 2015 World Cup. We didn’t know it at the time but this was the last great tournament from this team and it also signalled the end of Phil Simmons as Ireland coach as he left at the end to take over his native West Indies.
Ireland yet again faced the West Indies for the third successive World Cup and finally beat them. While the bowlers struggled again conceding 304 runs, the batsmen put the West Indies bowlers to the sword. Thanks to magnificent knocks from Stirling, 92 from 84 balls, Joyce 84 from 67 and Niall O’Brien an unbeaten 79 from 60, Ireland romped home with more than four overs to spare. They also became the only team to ever chase 300+ on three occasions in World Cup competition.
This was the highlight. Ireland did go on to edge out UAE by two wickets and four balls to spare. The match against Zimbabwe also went to the last over with Ireland winning by five runs and only three balls in hand.
Ireland’s bowling was an issue throughout and they were never really in contention in the final two matches against India and Pakistan against whom Porterfield pretty much played a lone hand with a fine century.
Later in 2015 Ireland hosted the WT20 Qualifiers and scraped through. They probably wished they hadn’t as they were abysmal in India suffering a particularly humiliating defeat to Oman.
From that point on Ireland suffered a whole series of thrashing against FM’s as the fortunes of the team went into rapid decline. The only really bright spot was the match at Lords a year ago when, although they lost, Ireland proved that they were a viable commercial proposition as 25,000 packed into the Home of Cricket. Judging by the colours I saw and the accents I heard that day at least half the crowd were Irish supporters.
With the elimination from next year’s World Cup described in the first part of this article the story is up to date.
A new chapter begins on Friday. All cricket lovers will pray that it doesn’t take too long to get back to the glory days.
The next generation of Ireland cricketers have a major task to emulate those of the past decade. If they show the same commitment and skill that whose players have shown it can be achieved.