England’s air of invincibility was washed away on a damp and dramatic afternoon in Melbourne. A combination of Ireland’s excellence and an unseasonable downpour turned one of the tournament favorites from twenty20 benchmarks to no-marks.
Ireland won by five runs on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method after rain fell 14.3 overs into England’s innings. Moeen Ali had scored 12 runs from the previous three balls and had the weather held for another two minutes this could well have been their game. “I’ve seen a lot of rain in my time in cricket and I’ve never been happier to see the rain fall,” said Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie.
The forecast was as clear as the darkening clouds were impenetrable and at no stage of England’s innings had they been ahead.
Jos Buttler won the toss and opted to add just so, given the risk of rain, his team would know the match situation when they came to bat. The problem was that they didn’t use that knowledge. “We had everything in our favor when it came to winning the toss, so we knew exactly what was required of us,” he said. “Not taking advantage of it really hurts.”
It’s 11 years since Ireland beat England in Bengaluru in the 50-over World Cup, and their folklore has a glorious new chapter. England will cling to the fact that defeat did not prevent them from qualifying from their group, even if it was a tournament with a much more forgiving format than this one.
There will also be memories of another 50-over World Cup in 2019, when three defeats left England playing what amounted to knockout cricket while still in the middle of the group stages.
On that occasion they held their nerve and rolled all the way to the title and there are plenty of veterans from that campaign in this dressing room. But if they are to have any chance of repeating that performance, they will need to bring to every future game an intensity and quality that was notably lacking here.
England were poor in the field, key bowlers were leaking runs and their batting was pedestrian. Powerplay is often key in this format and rarely is a team more emphatically superior than Ireland were here: they were 65 for one after six overs, with England 37 for three. The story of the match was essentially England trying to claw back the ground they conceded in the opening phase.
This was the same team that put up such an impressive display against Afghanistan in their opening game, but somehow not the same either. What we saw there was the highlight reel; here were bloopers and outtakes.
With the exception of Ben Stokes, England’s seamers too often made life too easy for Ireland. Chris Woakes was unconscionably punished, hitting three overs for 41 runs before being hidden in the outfield as England tore up their plans. When they did, Ireland were halfway through their innings, 92 to one, and heading for a daunting total.
The momentum shifted as England turned to spin and with a moment of outrageous fortune. He made 34 off 27 but Lorcan Tucker’s luck was definitely out, stranded after a straight drive by the excellent Balbirnie deflected into the stumps at the non-striker’s end off the underside of Adil Rashid’s hand. Ireland had been 103 for one and were bowled out for 157, losing their last seven wickets for 25 runs in 23 balls.
Liam Livingstone was an unexpectedly central figure in this collapse, taking three wickets, including Balbirnie. The problem was that he was also unexpectedly peripheral when England tried to capitalize.
England might not have expected to be hugely troubled by a target of 158, but then Josh Little started bowling, Buttler was caught behind off his second ball and the tone was set.
Neither Alex Hales nor Stokes, beautifully bowled by Fionn Hand, lasted long enough to make an impression, in contrast to Dawid Malan and Harry Brook, who lasted too long and made too little impact. In the 11th over, they haplessly tried to accelerate, leading to Brook being dropped at long-on, Malan being dropped at point and then Brook being caught at deep midwicket.
Livingstone and Moeen, more explosive and in better form, faced 14 balls between them. Buttler wondered if “there was a way we could have got them more involved in the game” and the inability to do so was perhaps crucial.
If England can’t handle their so-called finishers any better than this, they could be done for.
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