At what point was a dream upset on the cards?
As rollicking as the 82-run partnership between captain Andrew Balbirnie and Lorcan Tucker was, talk of victory was still premature as a collapse ensued and Ireland were “restricted” to 157. Was it when left-handed Joshua Little, with a snap in his wrist and ambition in his eyes, took out Jos Buttler and Alex Hales within a couple of overs? Too early again, with this England line-up.
Things turned pursed-lips worthy at the sight of Mark Adair harassing Dawid Malan. Time and again, from over and round the stumps, the right-handed pacer either swung the ball in or curled it away past the bat and stumps.
There was a moment as early as the fifth ball of the second over when Adair swung a peach of an outswinger through the bat-and-pad alley of a startled Malan as the ball almost landed a kiss of death on the off-bail. One sensed that the chase wasn’t going to be easy for England, and when Adair repeatedly teased Malan’s outside edge, it was clear that it was going to be a battle.
Unlike the English bowlers, who barring Mark Wood to an extent, couldn’t quite come to terms with the damp run-ups and the conditions, Ireland were on song from the start.
But this is England we are talking about. Batting-heavy, right till the end. They can tonk their way out of any crisis. Ireland had come close to beating India and New Zealand at home a couple of months ago, but couldn’t get over the line. “Questions were asked if they were mentally tough to close out those moments,” former Irish player Kenny Carroll would tell this newspaper.
The first answer came on the first ball of the sixth over. Fionn Hand, on his World Cup debut, running in to bowl his first ball to the tattooed swaggering Ben Stokes. Blink. Hand was losing his head in a celebratory run. What happened there? A curving cracker had found its way through an iffy prod to clatter the stumps.
A few years back, Hand had skipped the chance to play a series in India as he was at school and wanted to focus on his exams. A couple of months ago, he would hit the highest score by a debutant batting at No. 9 with a breezy 36. Now, a dreamy first ball at the World Cup to take out an iconic player. “I dare say as a former Irish international, we can’t even dream of those episodes, it’s crazy,” Carroll again.
Dream come true
29 for 3 in 5.1 overs at the fall of Stokes. But young Harry Brooks, who treasures his Pakistan Super League experience for helping him mature quickly, carried a battling Malan along in a 38-run stand.
Then came a moment of double jeopardy for the Irish. Off two successive balls, both Brooks and Malan were dropped in the deep by Adair and Gareth Delany off George Dockrell’s spin. But in the same over, Delaney would move further to his right at deep midwicket to snap up Brooks: 67 for 4 in 10.5 overs. Thirteen balls later, Barry McCarthy would hit the deck and get one across Malan who miscued a pull: 86 for 5 in 13.1 overs.
The dark clouds began to move in closer, enveloping the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground where remarkably the Irish players were playing for the first time. Another dream first date, then.
Three years back, Irish luck had smiled on an England captain from Ireland, overthrows off the bat and, what not, culminating in a memorable 50-over World Cup triumph. Now, Irish luck came via a familiar Dublin sight: rain. Drip, drip, drip, it began to fall on Moeen Ali, who started to swing his bat. Couple of boundaries came, the drizzle became a tad heavier, and when they were just 5 runs short of the par score (105 for 5 in 14.3 overs), the Irish clouds opened up in Australia.
“Did you know we have more than 11 per cent of the Irish diaspora in Australia? You must have seen the green-costumed fans?” Carroll again. One did see. One of the fans even had “Australian flies are more annoying than this rain” written on his costume. That was when Ireland were batting.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if he had scrubbed off ‘rain’ from his jersey by the end: there was nothing annoying about it for them, but a harbinger of joy. As they say in Ireland, it was an evening to get scuttered, to get stocious, to get drunk in delirious joy in the rain