Ireland have done it again. Nine years after defeating England at the 2011 World Cup, by an incredible coincidence they were set the same total they scored in Bangalore to win the third one-day international against England under the Ageas Bowl foodlights.
The successful chase was set up by a record second wicket stand in ODIs of 214 between Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie, ended by a mix-up between Ireland’s captain and vice-captain in the 42nd over which saw Stirling’s innings cut short after a magnificent 142.
At that stage Ireland still needed 71 for victory and 20-year-old Harry Tector was sent in to maintain the momentum. But it was Balbirnie, after a superb 113, from 112 balls with 12 fours, who was next to go, failing to clear long-off to give Adil Rashid his first wicket from the third ball of his last over.
Enter Kevin O’Brien, the hero of Bangalore and between the oldest man in the team and the youngest they took the game into the last over, with Ireland needing eight to win.
A no-ball from Saqib Mahmood gave Kevin O’Brien a free hit but although he only managed a two, it levelled the scores. He swung and missed at the fourth ball but pulled the fifth to long leg to seal another famous victory by seven wickets.
Stirling’s innings, however, will be the one that lives longest in the memory. Coming into the match with just 19 runs in his last three 50-over innings for Ireland, he started cautiously, as he is want to do these days. His first 50 took 52 balls, with just two fours and two sixes, but he was then into his stride, hitting Adil Rashid for two sixes in successive overs.
His fifth six brought up the 100 partnership in the 24th over, from 92 balls and he then enjoyed a slice of luck when James Vince failed to hold on at mid-wicket with Stirling on 95.
Unfazed, in the next over, he brought up his ninth ODI century from 96 balls and with the scoreboard reading 171-1 after 27 overs, Ireland were in control.
The partnership between Ireland’s two best batsmen went on and o, passing the previous best against a Full Member, the famous 162 between O'Brien and Alex Cusack in Bangalore - until Stirling enjoyed another life, again Vince the fall guy as he failed to get his hands to another skyer at mid-wicket.
This time, though he could not take advantage and four balls later he was walking back to the pavilion, having set off for an unlikely single, was sent back by his captain and run out by the bowler.
The players, for the third successive game, took the knee before the first ball and the flag which has been acknowledging the work of frontline workers during this pandemic continued to fly above the Ireland dressing room.
The teams also stood for a minute’s silence and wore black armbands in remembrance of former SDLP leader John Hume, described by Cricket Ireland as a “tremendous man with fantastic vision and a relentless commitment to peace”.
Ireland again enjoyed the perfect start with Craig Young having the out-of-form Jason Roy caught at second slip with his fifth ball and three overs later Mark Adair, brought back into the side in place of Simi Singh, struck with his eighth delivery wrecking the stumps of Jonny Bairstow who had scored a whirlwind 82 in the second match on Saturday.
However, it proved to be a case of be careful what you wish for as Eoin Morgan replaced Bairstow. In the first two games, the England captain had come in at No 6, allowing the young talent of Tom Banton and Sam Billings ahead of him. But this time, after losing both openers, the Dubliner took it upon himself to rescue England – and how!
He brought up his 50 from just 39 balls, with seven fours and two sixes but he had to survive a difficult chance, high to Balbirnie at mid-wicket when he was on 67, before he picked up the tempo again and scored his second half century, again from 39 balls, with an identical boundary count.
However, just two balls later, Morgan sliced Josh Little to short thirdman where Harry Tector held a comfortable running catch. It was the third time young Little had dismissed the England captain in three ODIs.
The dismissal sparked a mid-order collapse which saw Ireland take three wickets in 12 balls, with Gareth Delany trapping Banton on the back foot and Curtis Campher having Moeen Ali caught at cover off the leading edge.
When Young returned to attack to have Billings caught low at mid-on – the Kent batsman’s first dismissal in the series – England were 216-7 but David Willey scored his second ODI 50 and when the last pair got the world champions over 300 Ireland knew they would have to produce something amazing to claim their first 10 World Cup Super League points. And they did!