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Ian Callender

Eoin Morgan, the Irishman in the England squad, denied Ireland a famous victory over the Ashes winners in a dramatic finale at Stormont. Morgan was left out of the starting XI but found himself fielding at long-on in the last over as a substitute for Graham Swann. With Ireland needing nine to win from two balls, Trent Johnston hit the ball beautifully to the boundary. It would have gone for six but for Morgan, at full stretch, palming the ball back into play. Johnston, on his 100th appearance for Ireland, duly hit the last ball of the match for four but it was too late and England had sneaked home by three runs. However, after the start which Ireland had enjoyed, it not only should have been a third win over a Full member but it should have been won at a canter.

After restricting England to 203 for nine in 50 overs, a three-hour delay reduced the Ireland innings to the minimum 20 overs with a victory target score of 116. In the ninth over, the home side were 64 for two with Paul Stirling, the day before he leaves for Canada with the Ireland Under 19s, in irresistible form and Andre Botha scoring comfortably at a run-a-ball. But first Botha was leg before to Ashes hero Swann and, six balls later, Stirling, who had hit 30 from just 26 balls with four fours and a six, gave a simple return catch to the leg spinner Adil Rashid. Still there should have been no panic with only 50 wanted from 64 balls and six wickets left. But Kevin O'Brien and John Mooney could not get the leg spinner away and were bogged down by England captain Paul Collingwood's accuracy. They used up five overs in making 16 runs and when Andrew White was run out, ball watching, by wicket-keeper Matt Prior after missing an attempted reverse sweep, Ireland's slide was uncontrollable.

Regan West was caught in the deep and when Alex Cusack was bowled by Owais Shah, 15 balls out, Ireland had lost five wickets for 12 runs. On this day of all days, no-one could rule out an Irish victory with Johnston still at the wicket. But it was not to be. At the start of the day he had bowled superbly to take out England's top three and then ended Luke Wright's whirlwind innings of 36 from 26 balls to finish with four for 26.

Kevin O'Brien, opening the bowling in place of the injured Boyd Rankin, gave Johnston such good support that England scored just 20 runs in the first 10 overs and two of the Ashes winning squad, Ravi Bopara and Jonathan Trott, the century maker in the decisive Oval Test, were back in the pavilion for ducks. Joe Denly, on his first appearance for England, stood firm and in a sensible innings of 111 balls, with only three fours, he scored 67. Around him, the other Ashes heroes floundered. Matt Prior made 29 from 52 balls, Collingwood himself nine from 23 and Swann could not repeat his batting heroics from last weekend, bowled by Botha for five.

Botha continued his rehabilitation at the crease with a full 10 overs spell, his last three at the death going for just 15 runs and Alex Cusack shared the batting powerplay overs with Johnston, conceding just 25 runs, 13 of them off the last. In the end it probably made a difference but no-one was blaming the Irish bowlers last night. If William Porterfield and Niall O'Brien had not given their wickets away so early then even with the ball turning later in the innings Ireland would have run out comfortable winners.

As it is, instead of gaining 15 ranking points, they have lost two and go back to 11th in the world rankings, below Zimbabwe. So near yet so far.

Alistair Bushe (Newsletter) reports

For a few fleeting minutes at Stormont, we were dreaming that the date of Thursday, August 27 2009 was about to be inscribed into Irish cricketing folklore. We were remembering the St Patrick's Day victory over Pakistan in the World Cup of 2007, and the 1969 toppling of the mighty West Indies and believing that England, the newly crowned Ashes winners, were also about to be humbled. A long rain interruption in the RSA one day international challenge had ensured England's total of 203 for nine was reduced to a hugely achievable target for Ireland of 116 in 20 overs. The required rate was just under six runs per over and for the first half of their run chase, Ireland were ahead, mostly thanks to an inspired cameo from the teenager Paul Stirling.

The Carrickfergus batsman, who is on the books of English county side Middlesex, treated an English attack missing the rested Stuart Broad and James Anderson with disdain, announcing his arrival at number three by smashing Ryan Sidebottom back over his head for four, and then he advanced down the track to push the Ashes hero Graeme Swann through the covers for another boundary. By the time Stirling brought up Ireland's 50 in the seventh over, by crashing England captain Paul Collingwood for six over wide mid-wicket, the home side were in pole position.

With Ireland 59 for two after eight overs, England had the look of worried men, but the momentum swung dramatically as first Andre Botha (15) was lbw to Swann in the ninth over and an over later Stirling followed, caught and bowled by leg-spinner Adil Rashid after hitting four fours and a six in a delightful 30 from just 26 balls. From there it all rather ground to a halt. John Mooney, perhaps fortunate to be picked ahead of Gary Wilson, made just nine from 22 balls and Kevin O'Brien an uncharacteristic four from 12 as the fifth wicket pair added just 16 in almost five overs.

There was too much for the tail to do as England took the pace off the ball on a sluggish pitch, although we did almost have a dramatic ending as Ireland began the final over needing a seemingly hopeless 17 to win. The last wicket pair of man of the match Trent Johnston and Kyle McCallan got it down to a still unlikely nine from two balls, but Johnston appeared to have hit the six needed to keep the game alive only for Eoin Morgan, a substitute fielder, to somehow palm the ball back just a yard in from the boundary. Johnston struck the final ball from Owais Shah, the part-time spinner who took three decisive wickets, for four but it was a case of so near, but yet so far for Ireland.

Earlier in the day Ireland, as they almost always do, did themselves proud in the field. Led by former captain Johnston, they began brilliantly against an England top order looking typically vulnerable without the reassuring presence of Ashes man of the series and captain, Andrew Strauss. Ravi Bopara, whose wretched time against Australia led to his omission for the decisive, final Test, went without scoring to Johnston, after edging a drive to second slip. And with Oval centurion Jonathan Trott lbw to one that nipped back, England spent most of the powerplay overs trying to defend rather than attacking the Irish bowling.

When rain stopped play in the seventh over, England were just nine for two, and it could even have been worse. It was not until the 21st ball of the innings that England had scored a run off the bat, when Denly found the rope at extra cover with a drive off Kevin O'Brien. Johnston's opening spell of two for seven off six overs was a suitable reward on his 100th Ireland appearance and after Denly's 53-run partner ship with Matt Prior for the third wicket was ended by the excellent Andre Botha, Ireland took a grip on proceedings.

Collingwood never found fluency, making just nine from 23 balls until he was dismissed by left-arm spinner Regan West, and Shah, after making 21 from 32 deliveries, hit Alec Cusack into the safe hands of Kevin O'Brien. Denly wasn't exactly easy on the e ye, but his 67 from 110 balls, which included just three boundaries, at least held the first half of the England innings together. The Kent opener was eventually trapped lbw as Johnston claimed a third wicket, and at 135 for six, England were struggling badly on 135 for six. That the Ashes winners managed to reach 200 was almost exclusively down to Luke Wright, the Sussex all-rounder. Capitalising on the final batting powerplay, Wright twice cleared the ropes in a rapid 36, as he dominated a stand of 42 with Adil Rashid.

Only a brilliant catch by Mooney, flinging himself full length on the run from long-off, halted the 26-ball assault and gave Johnston a well deserved fourth victim. England only passed 200 in the final over of the innings as Tim Bresnan tickled Botha narrow of third man for four, and how vital that boundary proved to be in the final analysis.

Stormont, Belfast