Scotland v Ireland
Another day, another venue, but in Scotland it's the same old story. Defeat was again plucked from the jaws of victory as Ireland lost their last six wickets for 24 runs and were beaten by nine runs. Ireland's bowling, on paper not nearly as strong as their batting, rose to the occasion and restricted Scotland to 160 for nine in the opening game of the Triple Crown. At the start of the 42nd over, Ireland were perfectly placed on 127 for four with Peter Gillespie 55 not out and Angus Dunlop looking impregnable.
The only reason Scotland chose to bat was because the wicket would deteriorate. They had only one spinner to take advantage of what proved to be a slow turner, but when Ireland meet Scotland, it doesn't seem to matter what pace they bowl, we find a way of getting out. Gillespie's innings was of flashing cover drives and deft deflections behind point, but it was a straight drive which proved his downfall, Craig Wright finding the Outside edge. There is a vulnerable look about the Ireland lower order and when Heasley became the third batsman to play on, it was up to the captain. He confidently off-drove Essex bowler James Brinkley in the 48th over, but failed to make contact next ball and was bowled. Four runs later, the last two batsmen were also back in the pavilion, with Ireland's nemesis, the slow left-armer, taking the final wicket.
Ireland had surrendered the initiative at the start of their reply by choosing to restore the opening partnership of Kyle McCallan and Neil Carson. Ed Joyce, the hero of Edgbaston, was left in the pavilion, without his pads on. However, he was at the wicket in the eight over with Brinkley and his opening partner Asim Butt each boosted by an early wicket, Carson playing all round a straight one and McCallan trapped plumb in front.
The wait was no good for Joyce either and he failed to follow through the forward defensive prod to his eighth ball and played on. Stephen Smyth, apart from a straight six off Stanger, was subdued, his 21 runs coming off 59 balls but, with Gillespie scoring freely at the other end he was doing nothing wrong-until he went up the wicket to Andy Tennant and fell to a spectacular catch at long-on.
Earlier, McCallan and Matt Dwyer did all that was asked of them, conceding just 46 runs in the 20 overs of spin, Eagleson again found a nagging length and made the initial breakthrough in his third over and Cooke deserved his three wickets. However, the most encouraging aspect of the Irish fielding was Jonathan Bushe's debut behind the stumps. A quick stumping was the highlight of a very promising display and it does not deserve to be remembered for the chance he missed off Lockie on his return to the middle. The total then was 148. Four hours later what a difference it made.
Ireland v England
Ireland retained an outside chance of winning the Triple Crown after another excellent bowling performance brought them an exciting four-runs victory against the English Cricket Board XI. Accused by coach Mike Hendrick of having no bottle in their nine-runs defeat by Scotland in Tuesday's opener, Ireland bounced back to defend a vulnerable 171 for 9 total.
An inspirational opening spell by Ryan Eagleson when he removed two of England's top three was almost ruined by his final over when he conceded nine runs, but the run-out of wicketkeeper Waterton off the final ball of his over proved vital. It left England's last pair needing 11 off the last six balls and Gordon Cooke was the Ireland hero to crown a very satisfactory two days' bowling.
When Ireland set out to defend their 50-over total, they had no right to expect victory. The wicket was in favour of batting and the England batsmen had, after all, hit the Welsh attack for 271 in their opening game. But Cooke and Eagleson, much like they had done at Edgbaston found the right length if not, initially, the direction. Twelve wides spoiled their opening 13 oven, but three wickets nullified the damage and immediately put England on the back foot.
The introduction of Kyle McCallan again in the 11th over maintained the pressure, and though he did not make a breakthrough until his seventh over, Matt Dwyer was successful with his fourth delivery. At 68 for five in the 23rd over Ireland were on top and the concession of 50 runs in 20 overs underlined the quality of their spin bowling. Derek Heasley was the unsung hero for the second successive day. Brought on in the the middle of both innings, he finished with identical figures-and boundaries are a rarity when he is bowling. Earlier, Ireland also found it difficult to reach the rope with Cooke's defiant six in the last over the only boundary in the final 12 overs. Little did anyone realise then how important that was to prove. The most disappointing aspect of the Ireland batting was that three players again got a start, but not one of them reached 40, never mind the 70 or 80 usually associated with a match-winning innings. Joyce was out first ball wafting at a wide one which normally he would leave with contempt.
McCallan failed again and Carson took 19 overs reaching 18. In comparison, Smyth started like a million dollars, hitting Usher out of the attack with a four and a six off his second and third balls, and he then hit three fours in his next over, while Dunlop came to the wicket in the 23rd over, also scored 37, but again could not see the innings out. By the end of the game, though, he had done enough to win the Man of the Match award, with his captaincy-consistently good once again-earning as deserved special mention.
Ireland v Wales
Stand-in captain Stephen Smyth led Ireland to a 17 run victory over Wales in Paisley-in a game in which opener Kyle McCallan hit a brilliant 100. However even a second victory was not enough to prevent England winning the Triple Crown for the second time. England's nail-biting two runs win against Scotland at Hamilton Crescent gave them the trophy on run rate with Ireland's 17 runs victory against Wales in Paisley enough to pip Scotland for second place after all three sides finished with two wins each. So, still no team has won all three games in the six years of the competition.
The story of the day was made even before a hall was bowled when Smyth was asked to lead Ireland in place of Angus Dunlop who had stepped down because of an ankle injury. If Kyle McCallan was disappointed that he did not accede to the captaincy it certainly didn't show in his performance. He scored his second century for Ireland, but his best in a one-day international, and followed up with four wickets as Wales were bowled out in the 49th over for 207.
The all-rounder was paired with Ed Joyce at the top of the order and they compiled an opening stand of 79. Smyth never matched the thrilling deeds of his briefer innings on Wednesday but 43 off 46 balls with five boundaries maintained the Irish momentum. Neil Carson adapted well to his new role at No 4 and he also scored at a run a ball to keep Ireland on course for 250.
It was not so much the nervous 90s as the late 80s which affected MoCallan, probably because of the fall of wickets at the other end, but a two through extra cover brought him his century off 139 bails with seven fours. Unfortunately, as in his maiden century at Malahide in 1996 he was out next bell and Gillespie and Heasley both sacrificed their wickets in the final over.
For once the opening bowlers did not make a direct breakthrough although luck was on Ireland's side when Hemp was run out by Cooke's deflection while backing up. Dwyer was Smyth's first bowling change and the new skipper got it right first time with a wicket off the fourth ball of the over and when two more followed in Dwyer's next six overs Wales were reduced to 55 for four.
A partnership of 75 between Hopkins and Bell gave Wales hope. A change, however, to Dwyer's end was all that was needed and McCallan's second spell of four for 28 was more than enough for Smyth to claim his first victory and switch on the calculators.