England needed an Irishman to help them avoid another embarrassing defeat to a minnow in yesterday's one-day international in Belfast. Less than three months after Paul Collingwood led England to defeat in the World Twenty20 opener against the Netherlands at Lord's, he was at the helm again, standing in for the resting Andrew Strauss, as Ireland closed in on victory over the Ashes winners at Stormont.
Needing an unlikely 17 off the last over, Aussie-born Trent Johnston, on his 100th appearance for Ireland, reduced the target to nine off two balls. The fifth ball of the over went to long-on where Middlesex's Eoin Morgan, fielding as 12th man for Graeme Swann, palmed the ball from over the boundary back into play to save the six. In the confusion Ireland ran one short so even with Johnston hitting the last ball for four, they still came up three runs shy and England and Collingwood could flee Ireland with a win.
But there really should only have been one winner – and it wasn't England. After a three-hour delay, the Ireland innings was reduced to the minimum 20 overs and the victory target was 116. After Ryan Sidebottom's first two overs disappeared for 15 and Tim Bresnan's for 13, Ireland raced to 64 for two in the eighth over. Then the wheels came off as leg spinner Adil Rashid held a return catch to dismiss Paul Stirling for a sparkling 30 and Swann, Collingwood and Shah, with three wickets for 15 at the death, rescued England.
England were grateful to a new cap and an opening batsman, coming in at No 7, to help them reach 203 for 9. Joe Denly had played at Stormont two years ago, for Kent on Ireland's homecoming from the 2007 World Cup in a Friends Provident Trophy game and, from No 6, scored 102 not out off 109 balls. He obviously enjoys the Belfast venue. Yesterday, while his top-order team-mates struggled against an accurate but otherwise gentle Ireland bowling attack, he made 67 in his first appearance in a red shirt.
Ravi Bopara missed the celebrations at The Oval having been dropped and his return to international cricket was not one to remember. He lasted just nine balls before he edged Trent Johnston to Ireland's only slip and Paul Stirling held the catch.
Bopara's replacement for the Ashes decider, Jonathan Trott, was sent in first wicket down on his one-day international debut and he fared even worse, trapped in front, just five balls into his innings, by Johnston. Matt Prior failed to survive Andre Botha's third over, caught at long on, and while 29 out of 59 looked good on the scoreboard, his tally of 52 balls received was more relevant.
And it did not improve with Collingwood's scratchy innings. Nine off 23 balls was no help to his side at all and only compounded by his dismissal to leave them 92 for four in the 29th over.
England had opted not to use the one player in their squad more used to Irish conditions than anyone, Dubliner Morgan named as 12th man against the side he played for on 63 occasions, the last as recently as April in the World Cup qualifiers in South Africa. Instead it was his Middlesex team-mate, Owais Shah, who came in at No 6 but while the boundary was still off limits, his 21 off 32 balls at least improved the run-rate.
Denly, after an innings of 111 balls, but only three boundaries, was sixth out, the third victim of Johnston, and it was left to Wright to get England to 200, the minimum they could have planned for, even on this slow surface.
Joe Denly's score on his England debut in Ireland yesterday.