For 11 overs of their innings in the one-day international in Clontarf, Ireland dared to dream of victory over the world champions. With 80 runs on the board, the openers in full flow and only another 152 wanted for the mother of all upsets, the sell-out 4,500 crowd, basking in the afternoon sunshine, were cheering every run off the bat of William Porterfield and Paul Stirling.
The Australia bowlers were rattled and the captain, the great Ricky Ponting, was not exactly panicking but was certainly beginning to wonder just how he would get a breakthrough. In the end, inevitably, it was a batsman‘s error rather than a demon delivery which ended the partnership, Stirling, after a run-ball 36 playing all round a ball from Ryan Harris. The crowd hoped it would be but a hiccup to an Ireland success but when Gary Wilson, promoted to No 3, and, crucially, the captain, followed in the space of three overs, the Aussies were back in control.
And all this before James Hopes came on to irrevocably change the course of the match. Introduced in the 21st over, he had conceded just five runs from 13 balls when he trapped Alex Cusack and after that the batsmen were rendered almost strokeless. There was not a single boundary between the 22nd and 38th overs and Ireland collapsed form 137 for three to 156 for nine and only John Mooney’s late flourish from No 8 got the margin of defeat down to 39 runs.
Mooney loves playing against Australia. He was top scorer in the World Cup clash in Barbados three years ago and was just one run short of repeating the feat yesterday when he mistimed a pull off Shane Watson and was caught by Ponting. Frustratingly, Ireland failed to use eight overs which made the defeat even harder to bear but although the pace attack of Doug Bollinger, Harris and Clint McKay may be nowhere near the class of Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, to name just two, the back-up attack was perfectly suited for the slow Clontarf pitch.
Hopes finished with five for 14 from nine overs and the class of Watson was not even called upon until the 36th over. Nathan Hauritz, preferred to leg spinner Steven Smith, took only two wickets but they were the big two of Porterfield, beaten on the back foot by one that turned and Niall O’Brien caught behind for just 15. O’Brien was playing as a specialist bat yesterday, unwilling to risk his broken finger behind the stumps but his hands stood up well enough to hold three catches in the outfield, all off his brother Kevin‘s bowling.
Gary Wilson took over the gloves but it was a throw with an ungloved hand which handicapped his side. His decision to try and run out Shane Watson may have been well intentioned but bowler Trent Johnston didn’t think so when he fielded it. Indeed it was so painful that it not only left him with a bruised hand but forced him to leave the field after bowling five overs, only returning to try and hold the bat at No 9. Last night it was strapped and he will go for an MRI scan next week, just before he due to captain Ireland against West Indies A at Stormont on 23 June. In the end it was the other Australia opener who proved the biggest pain for Ireland. Indeed it was Tim Paine by name and Paine by nature as he stayed around for 44 overs, scoring 81 with just seven boundaries as he thwarted an otherwise impressive and persistent Ireland attack.
Boyd Rankin, Alex Cusack and Paul Stirling, the number one spinner yesterday after Gary Kidd was relegated to 12th man, all finished with two wickets. Half the job had been done but only half and Porterfield was left ruing another missed opportunity.
He said. “When these occasions come along we have to put in the performances and show the world what we can do and for 70 overs of that game we did. Now we have to do it for 100 overs and not let up, you can't afford to lose wickets in bunches against teams like this because they will come down on you and crush you like they did here.”