The might have beens! Ireland won the inaugural European Cup in Denmark in 1996. On home ground they could have, indeed should have, regained the trophy from holders Holland. The position, going into this last day of the tournament was that if Holland beat Scotland (as they did) and Ireland beat ECB, then the trophy was Ireland's. Ireland and ECB would each have lost one Match but an Irish defeat of ECB would have made Ireland champions. The rules ordained that if two teams finished level the result of the match between the two would decide the tournament winner. As events unfolded, having lost by one run, Ireland finished third. They were level second with Scotland but Scotland had beaten Ireland and so finished above them.
The ECB had a strong team out but had a miraculous early win -v- Scotland. The latter needed four to win with 10 balls to be bowled and six wickets in hand. From that position Scotland lost their six wickets and got two runs!
On a slow outfield and a pitch with some dampness in it Ireland decided to field on winning the toss. McGonigle for McDaid was the only Irish change in the team that had beaten Holland. ECB fielded seven of the team that easily beat Ireland in the Triple Crown in Sussex in 2001. From that match only five Irish players remained - White, Joyce, McCallan, Armstrong and McGonigle. This was McGonigle's first outing of this week's tournament.
Foster, ECB's captain, and left hander Hughes opened the batting at 10.30 a.m., the usual early start on a Tournament's last day. Neely gave away two fours to Foster in his second over and Mooney was hit for a four by Hughes in his fourth over. Mooney had revenge in his next over (9th) when Hughes was caught at the wicket. 31-1-10. Another left hander, R. Howitt, joined Foster and was to dominate the innings. Foster did not long survive his opening partner. Armstrong replaced Mooney. Foster hit him for a four and eased a long hop into square leg's hands next ball. 53-2-24 in the 15th over.
Dawood joined Howitt. Their 18 run stand took six overs and Dawood's eight were all in singles. Armstrong bowled two overs for 13 runs and a wicket and was replaced by McCallan. A good move because McCallan induced Dawood down the wicket and bowled him in his second over. 71-3-8. Chapman joined Howitt and a good stand ensued (77 in 18 overs). The half way, 25 overs, score was 80. Then Chapman took 10 off a Heasley over. This brought on McGonigle and an all spin attack was used until 43 overs were bowled.
The score was 106 in 30 overs. The ball had then to be changed. Howitt hit his first four in the 34th over (he came in the 9th) when Joyce failed to take a running catch at deep mid-wicket off McGonigle. Heasley injured a leg and McDaid came on to field. McCallan bowled his 10 overs for 28 and was replaced by White for the 30th over. In this over Howitt went to 50 off 94 balls and Chapman fell to the last ball of the over. He was caught at backward square leg. 148-4-44. While he was in Chapman hit four fours off 57 balls and during that time Howitt got only one boundary.
Pugh joined Howitt. The score after 40 overs was 151 with four wickets down so there was hope of restricting ECB to about 210. Pugh might have been run out in over 43. Then came what appeared to be a tactical error. McGonigle had bowled eight overs for 41 while, at the other end, White could bowl out the Innings.
A faster bowler would have to bowl two overs but McGonigle could have bowled the 44th and 46th overs. Instead Neely came back. His first over cost 13 as did his second. Howitt, who had hit two fours to date, hit Neely for four fours in these two overs. Now the score was 197 with four overs to go. Then White had Howitt caught at long on with the first ball of the 47th over. McGonigle took a very good catch making ground to his right. 197-5-83. Howitt faced 120 balls and his stand with Pugh brought 49 runs in seven overs. Another left hander, Mole, came in and scored 10 off the five balls he faced. Neely was persisted with and had Mole caught at square leg in over 48. 212-6-10. 14 balls remained to be bowled. Off these ECB scored 14 runs lost two more wickets but Neely's three overs on return had cost 34 runs. Pugh was stumped off White in the 49th over. Neely bowled the last and partly redeemed himself. The first ball accounted for Akhtar (caught at the wicket) and only five more came from the remaining five balls.
226 is not a vast total but it does seem it could have been less. Overall the fast and slow bowlers came out about level. The four faster men bowled 26 overs for 119 runs and four wickets and the three slow bowlers went for 101 runs in 24 overs and also four wickets.The rate Ireland required was 4½ runs per over. This rate was never achieved. The best point was after 30 overs. The score was 130 leaving almost 100 runs to be scored in the last 20 overs. The rate actually declined in those 20 overs as wickets fell leaving a situation where 24 runs were needed in the last three overs. O'Brien and Armstrong did their best setting up a requirement of seven runs in the last over but both were out in this over and McGonigle could not hit a three off the last ball.
The other factors which brought about Ireland's defeat were White, Joyce and Davy all getting out early and cheaply; an injury to Molins when he was 65 necessitating a runner; the running out of McCallan after what looked like a match winning stand of 86; Mooney and Heasley being out quickly after McCallan; Molins' slow run rate as he approached his first century for Ireland; Molins being run out in the third last over when his runner strayed out of his ground; and finally, O'Brien being given run out off the fourth last ball when he was well in.
Stoneman and Sharp, neither much above medium pace, began for ECB to Molins and White. White hit a four to fine leg in the first over and all went well until the fifth over. Then White square cut Stoneman for four and was out next ball when he followed a ball going away and was caught at second slip. 12-1-8. Joyce faced five balls amid very loud noise from the English fielders. He failed to score and was palpably LBW in Stoneman's next over. 17-2-0.
Davy came in and a strange stand followed. It lasted 52 balls, 46 runs were scored of which Davy made six in 20 balls faced. He got a two off his first ball and then four singles. Meanwhile Molins was in great form. In the 11th over he took nine off Stoneman and, in the 12th, seven off Sharp. That saw the end of both bowlers. On came Akhtar and Foster, two more medium pacers. Molins continued his fast scoring. He took nine off Akhtar's first over, which cost 11 in all, and the score was 56 in 13 overs, of which Molins was 40.
Foster had Davy LBW in the 16th over. 63-3-6. This brought in McCallan who had much improved his batting this year with a wider range of shots. In seven innings he had been out for less than 20 only twice. Molins was 44 when McCallan arrived. He reached 51 out of 74 off 63 balls in the 20th over. In the next two overs McCallan hit two fours. Then Chapman (slow left arm) replaced Akhtar for the 23rd over and bowled a maiden. In his second over (25th) McCallan hit a six over mid-wicket to bring up exactly 100.
Brown, a quickish off spinner, came on in place of Foster for the 26th over. Six runs came off it to Molins. All seemed well for Ireland. Disaster, the first of a few, struck in the 27th over. McCallan called a quick single. Molins, a slow runner, had to throw himself in and pulled a leg muscle. There was a 15 minute delay while Molins was attended to. Joyce, the fastest runner in the team, came out to run for Molins but the real delay was because the groundsman had to come out to extend the batting crease lines to accommodate the runner. Molins did not appear to be too hampered and hit a four off the last ball of the ongoing over. Both batsmen took boundaries in Chapman's fourth over.
After 30 overs the score was 130 for three and Ireland were now only five runs behind the required rate - needing 97 in 20 overs. Foster came back for Brown for over 34. McCallan, off successive balls square cut and cover drove two fours. At the 34 overs drinks interval Ireland were just ahead. The second Irish disaster came in the next over. Molins called a run to mid-off and then said "no". McCallan did not hear the "no" call and ran on. Joyce, the runner, did hear the "no" call and returned to his position at square leg. The throw to the bowler was wild and had to be retrieved by mid-on so, in fact, McCallan could have got back. 149-4-42. Foster bowled only one over and Brown came back for over 36. Eight runs came from it including a four by Molins. Then Mooney was bowled by Chapman (158-5-3) and Brown bowled Heasley in the next over (159-6-0). O'Brien was next.
Molins had faced 28 balls since his injury and went from 65 to 92 scoring off 14 of those balls with three fours. With O'Brien in, at 37.2 overs, 44 runs were scored in just under 10 overs (58 balls). O'Brien faced 34 of these balls and scored 27 runs of the partnership. Molins faced 21 balls and made 14 runs, the first 10 in singles. If Molins had stirred himself and hit the ball rather than patting singles the game could surely have been won. The score at 40 overs was 165 - 62 needed at just about one run per ball. Chapman was bowled out after 41 overs (one for 34) and Brown after 46 overs (one for 49). In the seven overs from 40 to 47 the rate of six an over only happened in over 46 (nine runs) and over 47 (six runs). O'Brien reverse swept a wonderful four in over 44 off Brown.
After 47 overs 24 were needed in three overs. In all probability fours were necessary in those three overs to restore a rate of one run per ball. Only one accrued. The next disaster came about off the first ball of the 48th over bowled by Foster. Molins was on strike. The ball went through to the wicket-keeper who spotted Joyce out of his ground at cover point and rolled the ball back on to Molins' stumps to run him out. 203-7-106. Molins went to his century with a single in over 45 off 129 balls (50 in 63 balls). In all he faced 136 balls and hit nine fours.
In came Armstrong. He got five in that over. O'Brien got one and there was a boundary byes off the last ball - one of the fours required. Now 14 off two overs. Stoneman bowled the 49th over. There were two leg byes and two runs off five balls. Then O'Brien hit a three off the last ball to make seven off the over. Now seven more were required and O'Brien was facing. O'Brien ran a bye and Armstrong got a run. O'Brien facing again and five required in four balls. Then came the two final disasters in the space of two balls.
O'Brien hit to leg and called a second run. All who were in line said he made his ground easily but the umpire did not agree. If given not out O'Brien would have regained the strike with three needed from three balls. His 33 off 41 balls with only one four was a wonderful effort which deserved to be rewarded with victory. Neely came in and scored a single. Armstrong snicked straight to the wicket-keeper and took off. Neely rightly refused and Armstrong was run out. Needing three off the last ball McGonigle could only get a single.
Sharp bowled six overs for 20 but was not recalled. Foster and Chapman were the least expensive. The six bowlers took five wickets and there were four run outs. Ireland's luck was not evident today and ECB were champions.