The Irish eyes are smiling! Why not? Ireland have just beaten England, the strongest team in the T20 Cricket World Cup 2022. That’s more than enough reason for the Irish to be happy.
That happiness was evident at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a cavernous stadium that housed more than 90,000 spectators for the India-Pakistan thriller on Sunday. Only a couple of thousand watched Ireland stun England in a rain-affected match on Wednesday, but Irish supporters were beaming as they hugged the cricketers who scripted the five-run victory.
“It’s amazing, kind of emotional. To come against tournament favourites at the MCG, where we have never played a game before, is amazing. A few of the fans in the crowd have extended their stay. Their support has been wonderful and will do a lot to grow the game back home,” Irish captain Andy Balbirnie told Star Sports, after the fairytale win.
Fairytale wins aren’t new for Ireland. They have beaten England twice before, and the recent one was in Southampton in 2020, when Paul Stirling and Balbirnie scored centuries as Ireland chased down 329. Their first big win dates back to 2007, when they downed Pakistan by three wickets in the 50-over World Cup in Kingston, Jamaica.
Even in this World Cup, Ireland qualified for the Super 12s with the giant-slaying act of taking down the mighty West Indies. Well, the West Indies are a team on the wane, struggling to recapture the glory of the yesteryears. Yet, it wasn’t easy.
Ireland’s epic win in Bangalore
The Irish weren’t finished. A loss to Sri Lanka didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. In fact, the sight of England must have revived their spirits. Memories of an epic win over England in 2011 would have rejuvenated them.
That win is seared in Irish cricket history. A win conjured by Kevin O’Brien’s century, chasing England’s mammoth 327 in the World Cup (50 overs) game in Bangalore. Stirling and George Dockrell were part of the golden generation led by William Potterfield, and the two continue to play key roles in the current squad, helmed by Balbirnie.
None of the English players from Andrew Strauss’s squad made it to Melbourne on Wednesday, although James Anderson and Stuart Broad continue to ply their trade in Tests. But England captain Jos Buttler seemed aware of the history between the teams. He was not ready to treat the Irish lightly. All the energies were focused on the Ireland game soon after England’s win over Afghanistan on Saturday, he said.
“Anytime you take things for granted, or you don’t respect the opposition is when you can get hurt,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. “I think in T20 cricket especially, there’s the one format where it’s as level a playing field as any. We give them great respect. We expect a really tough game.”
Buttler’s premonition came true. Not only did the Irish give England a tough game, but they also upset the most powerful team at the World Cup. A team that bats down to No 9. The team with the fastest bowler in the World Cup [Mark Woods]. The team with the best mix of pace and spin.
The best attack is effective only when it performs well. Ireland didn’t allow it, racing away in the powerplay only to collapse in a heap from 103/1 in 12 overs to 157 all out. Balbirnie (62) and Lorcan Tucker strung together an 82-run second partnership and that was the brightest spot in the Ireland innings.
The Irish hit back quickly as Josh Little sent back Buttler with the second ball of the innings before removing the other opener Alex Hales. David Malan (35) kept England afloat, but England went into a tailspin before Moeen Ali struck back.
That’s when rain intervened. The game never restarted. Ireland were ahead in the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern calculations, and that handed them another historic win. A win cheered heartily by the travelling group of supporters.
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Butler admitted that England were totally outplayed by Ireland. “I thought we were poor in the first 10 overs and let them get away. We were not consistent enough, [and] let them score on both sides of the wicket. The second ten overs were much better. We let them have 20-30 more in the first ten but pulled it back,” he told Star Sports.
“Myself getting out first over didn’t help; we never managed to get [the] initiative. The rain’s gotten heavier and heavier, so [there was] no problem of coming out when we did. Ireland were excellent; they outplayed us. We made a mistake here and has made it difficult in a tough group,” Buttler added.
The result spices up England’s game against Australia at the MCG on Friday. The encounters between Ashes rivals tend to be high-voltage clashes, and with both teams losing a game each, the scramble for semifinal spots from Group 1 just got more interesting.