Phil Simmons' decision to rest Alex Cusack backfired on the National Coach on his return to Grace Road as Leicestershire cashed in an under-strength Ireland bowling attack to sweep to a high scoring, seven wickets success. The West Indian, who masterminded the Midlands county to championship successes in 1996 and 1998, was happy to leave Cusack at home, despite the full-time contracted all-rounder wanting to play this weekend, but despite Leicestershire needing 198 in just 31 overs, they got home with a full two overs and seven wickets to spare.
Simmons will point out that if his first choice bowlers, Peter Connell, Regan West and Kyle McCallan had bowled anywhere near their potential then the attack, also missing the injured Trent Johnston and Andre Botha, should still have been strong enough to defend such a formidable total. But with Connell going at nine runs an over and Ireland's two slow bowlers conceding 58 in their 10 overs, Leicestershire found it all too easy.
South African Hylton Ackerman was again the scourge of the Irish. Last year he scored 103 and 54 in the county's two FPT victories and yesterday he bettered both those to finish 118 not out from just 87 balls. The most economical bowler was Kevin O'Brien but he was given only four of a possible seven overs, while Reinhardt Stryd om failed to repeat his efforts the previous day against Nottinghamshire as the Leicestershire onslaught continued. The bowling was in stark contrast to the Ireland batting which yielded their best scoring rate in any 50 overs game against a county. It was almost entirely due to a fourth wicket stand of 110 in just 15 overs between Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien, two extreme talents which who have come through the junior ranks in Irish cricket.
O'Brien, still only 25 years old, has done it before - this was his seventh score of 50 or more in his last 17 innings - but even the big-hitting Dubliner was upstaged here by the 18-year-old Belfast High schoolboy. His innings of 80, from 82 balls, included eight fours and two sixes with some outrageously good shots and even New Zealand Test bowler Iain O'Brien - comfortably the county's best yesterday - could not escape the force of the Stirling bat. His superb timing was the feature of his fourth half century for Ireland and by 10 runs his best. He hit only two sixes, compared to the four he managed against Northants last year but he still scores at such an impressive pace that the only reason he will not make Ireland's World Twenty20 squad next month is because of his A-levels.
Eoin Morgan may have been snapped up by England but Ireland have a ready-made No 3 for years to come.
The desperately poor second half to the day may have condemned Stirling's innings to defeat but the start, delayed by three hours because of rain, wasn't too clever either. James Hall, replacing Gary Wilson who was summonsed to play for Surrey - he scored 34 against Yorkshire - failed to survive the first over, Jeremy Bray was too slow out of the blocks and was run out after a run-a-ball 14 and Andrew Poynter played his third ball onto the stumps.
Still with John Mooney, promoted to No 6, boosting the Ireland innings with 19 from 17 balls at the end and O'Brien finishing with eight boundaries in his unbeaten 67, Ireland should have had more than enough to see them home.
Unfortunately, the bowlers, much like Leicestershire's before them, were found wanting.