Lee lights a fire in Irish rain
Ireland 36-3 v Australia: Two clean bowled in first three balls show veteran Australian paceman has not lost his edge
The rain that swamped Belfast over 48 hours put paid to any hopes of a result in the ODI at Stormont, which was abandoned in the 11th over – which also meant the 6,000 paying customers would, in theory, not qualify for a refund.
An all-night mopping-up operation by groundstaff had allowed play to start just 45 minutes late, and at least gave the Australian pacemen a chance to stretch their legs again before their five-match ODI series with England starts at Lord's on Friday.
Australia's selectors have taken some stick for persevering with Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, with the two veterans accused of being bed-blockers for their exciting young guns.
But the first three balls bowled at Stormont showed just what the 35-year-old Lee still has to offer. The Ireland captain William Porterfield has had a horrendous run of late with Warwickshire – his last six county innings read 1, 3, 5, 4, 4 and 7 – and may have been in two minds when Lee unleashed a 90mph opening delivery.
Porterfield pushed at the ball, which cut back viciously to remove a stump. Ed Joyce missed the line of the next ball but the boisterous appeal was rejected by the Belfast umpire Mark Hawthorne – no DRS here, but replays did show the ball was missing by a whisker.
Joyce's survival was brief, however, as Lee turned up the pace a notch and blew through his defences with fast late inswing to leave Ireland stupefied at 0 for 2.
Paul Stirling was watching all this from the far end, but when he finally got to face Ben Hilfenhaus he didn't hold back his natural belligerence.
Two years ago, at Clontarf, Stirling put Ireland in a strong position after their attack had restricted Australia to 231. He took to the bowling that day – at 80-0 off 11 there were hopes of a famous home win – and despite eventual defeat then, it meant most Test nations do not take Ireland for granted any more. Except the England and Wales Board, of course, which raised Gary Wilson's dander this weekend by referring to this game as a "warm-up" for Australia.
"I think you'll find it's an ODI," tweeted the Surrey wicketkeeper, suggesting the ECB show some "respect" to a team that beat England at last year's World Cup.
Yesterday, Stirling punished anything wide, and crashed Lee to the cover point fence in their first encounter. Hilfenhaus was struggling with his line, and Stirling hit successive boundaries off him.
Much of the interest in this new-look Australia side centres on the teenaged paceman Patrick Cummins, who impressed here with the 18 balls he managed.
Cummins' wide-elbowed, bustling approach leads to a low, whippy delivery that has been likened to Jason Gillespie. He bowls a tight line and kept Stirling and Niall O'Brien quiet for a while, turning up the heat to 94mph. Later he said he was happy just to get on in his first international for six months. "That was a ridiculous first over, I wasn't sure I was going to get a bowl," he said.
Cummins has grown in confidence and says he is more sure of his role. "That's come from training every day with James Pattinson, Clint McKay, Mitchell Johnson ... and to play with Brett Lee is brilliant. He's got such raw pace and he's a great competitor. I pick his brains every day."
O'Brien clipped Cummins classily to square leg for four and Stirling flayed him through backward point, but he followed the next ball and Michael Clarke took off and held a blinding catch wide to his right. "You feel safe with guys like that in the slips," Cummins grinned.
Ireland will hope the rain stops before the ODIs against Afghanistan on 3 and 5 July.
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