The defeat was hardly unexpected but the manner of Ireland's capitulation proved disappointing as they limped to a 136-run defeat by Leicestershire in yesterday's Nat West Trophy third-round clash at Castle Avenue.
There was a palpable lack of ambition in Ireland's batting even allowing for an attack spearheaded by England fast bowler Alan Mullally and Australian Test player Michael Kasprowicz. Too many Irish batsmen appeared to overly cherish their wicket, defending resolutely but offering very few strokes. In one-day cricket this is futile, all the more so when one considers that reigning county champions Leicestershire had hammered a total of 287 in 49.5 overs. It would have taken a Herculean effort for the home side to get within 40 runs of that figure, although they never tried with any conviction, inhibited to the point of inducing an afternoon nap for the 300 or so spectators in the warm afternoon sunshine.
Brigade's Stephen Smyth, 29, and South African Gerald Dros, 23, played with some conviction and drive but once they departed, the run-rate reverted to a trickle. At one stage in 9.2 overs, between the 27th and 37 overs, with Ed Joyce and Captain Angus Dunlop at the wicket, Ireland managed a paltry 14 runs, four of which came from byes. Joyce finally shook off the lethargy, hitting three fours in an unbeaten 39, but had run out of partners by the 49th over. Mullally inflicted the damage, initially taking two wickets for 15 runs off seven overs. Aftab Habib then grabbed a brace of wickets in four balls to finish Ireland off.
In contrast to their batting, Ireland bowled with determination and no little success. On only four previous occasions have they managed to bowl out a county side in a limited overs match and yesterday Leicestershire became the fifth. Ryan Eagleson deserves special mention, taking four wickets, albeit a tad costly at 59 runs. The ageless Matt Dwyer took a couple of wickets, as did Paul Mooney. Only Darren Maddy and wicketkeeper Paul Nixon mastered the Irish attack. Maddy, voted Man-of-the-Match, scored a fine 89 off 99 balls while Nixon accelerated the run-rate with a quick fire 51 from 42 balls.
Although there was little prospect that Ireland would challenge Leicestershire's 287 total, a more worthwhile offering than the 151 scored was a reasonable expectation in ideal conditions at Castle Avenue yesterday. The visitors may have won two English County Championships in the past three years but they should not have gone home with a 136 run victory in their baggage from this Nat West Trophy third-round match.
Ireland assistant coach Bobby Rao summed up afterwards saying "the inability to recognize runs was very disappointing." There was no roguery in the pitch and his view was illustrated at several points, most obviously when only five runs were scored between the 25th and 30th overs. Skipper Angus Dunlop and Ed Joyce have class but there also mood players, and six runs from 33 balls faced by the former was too quiet for a man earning his 90th cap. While Joyce finished unbeaten on 39 from 72 deliveries, he was very slowly out of the blocks, scoring only three runs off the first 22 balls he faced.
Earlier in the day there was some encouragement in the fact that was only the fifth time that Ireland had bowled out a county side in competition, but it would have been at a much cheaper cost had early catches to dismiss their top scorers, Darren Maddy, who scored 89, and Paul Nixon, 51, been taken. Ryan Eagleson had clearly profited from two winning matches for Derbyshire seconds in recent weeks. Though expensive, he included the wickets of Darren Stevens and Nixon from the top order before he also collected Mike Kasprowicz and Alan Mullally. It was, however, a stunning one-handed catch on the run at wide mid-on to end Ben Smith's tenure off Matt Dwyer's bowling, for which he will most remember the match.
Half the blood in star visiting bowler Mullally's veins is Irish and he promised, even before the match, that if rules permit he would be delighted to turn out for us at some point in the future.
In the meantime, on Monday evening in fact, Irish coach Mike Hendrick will have to persuade his squad that they can complete the Triple Crown of England ECB, Scotland and Wales in the six-match tournament in the Dublin area over the following three days.