Ireland stun England at T20 World Cup to throw Super 12 group wide open
England’s air of invincibility was washed away on a damp and dramatic afternoon in Melbourne. A combination of Ireland’s excellence and an ill-timed downpour turned one of the tournament favourites 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 even another two minutes this could well have been their game. “I’ve seen a lot of rain in my time playing cricket and I’ve never been happier to see that rain come down,” said Andrew Balbirnie, the Ireland captain.
The forecast was as clearcut as the darkening clouds were impenetrable and at no stage of England’s innings had they been ahead.
Jos Buttler won the toss and chose to field precisely so, given the chance of rain, his side would know the match situation when they came to bat. The problem was that they did not use that knowledge. “We had everything in our favour in terms of winning the toss, so we knew exactly what was required of us,” he said. “To not take advantage of that certainly hurts.”
It is 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 stop them qualifying from their group, though it was a tournament with a much more forgiving format than this one.
There will be memories, too, of another 50-over World Cup, in 2019, when three defeats left England playing what amounted to knockout cricket while still midway through the group stage.
On that occasion they held their nerve and rolled all the way to the title and there are plenty of veterans of that campaign in this dressing room. But if they are to stand any chance of repeating that achievement they will need to bring to every future game an intensity and quality that was notably absent here.
England were poor in the field, key bowlers leaked runs and their batting was pedestrian. The powerplay is often key in this format and rarely is one team more emphatically superior than Ireland were here: they stood at 65 for one after six overs, where England were 37 for three. The tale of the match was essentially of England trying to claw back the ground they ceded in that opening phase.
This was the same team that fielded so impressively against Afghanistan in their opening game, but somehow also not the same. What we saw there was the highlights reel; here were the bloopers and outtakes.
With the exception of Ben Stokes, England’s seamers too often made life too easy for Ireland. Chris Woakes was remorselessly punished, bowling three overs for 41 runs before being hidden in the outfield as England ripped up their plans. As they did so, Ireland were halfway through their innings, 92 for one, and heading for a sizeable total.
Momentum shifted once 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 to be 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 that of Balbirnie. The problem was that he was also unexpectedly peripheral as England tried to capitalise on it.
England might not have expected to be hugely inconvenienced 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 impact, which contrasted with Dawid Malan and Harry Brook, who lasted too long and made too little of an impact. In the 11th over they haplessly attempted 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 whether “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 cannot manage their so-called finishers better than this, it might be they who are finished.