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Revisiting Ireland's first ODI against Bangladesh

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Ireland_cricket_ODI_World_Cup_2015The moment the schedule for the 2007 World Cup became known to the masses, the Super Eight match slated to be played in Bridgetown, Barbados on Sunday, 15th April, 2007 was billed as the blockbuster clash of the showpiece event. India and Pakistan were both expected to waltz into the second round. Irrespective of whether they finished first or second in their groups, the pre-determined seeding meant that the date of their encounter was set in stone.

The warm-ups suggested that the sub-continental giants were shaping up well, going into the tournament. India blew the West Indies away for 85 while Pakistan eased past South Africa by seven wickets. Fans from either side of the border awaited Super Sunday with bated breath, as did the broadcasters. A packed house promised a carnival atmosphere. Would Pakistan finally beat India at the World Cup? Would the world witness another spectacle from Sachin Tendulkar?

Five days into the tournament, Pakistan were knocked out of the World Cup, courtesy a shock three-wicket defeat to Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. The same day, Bangladesh pulled the rug from under India’s feet, condemning them to a morale-sapping five-wicket reversal. Sri Lanka duly hit the final nail in India’s coffin, and two of the most bankable teams of the tournament were on the plane back home within a fortnight of its commencement. 

Instead, it was Bangladesh and Ireland who entered the Super Eights and the two teams ended up facing each other at the Kensington Oval on 15th April. It would not be an understatement to say that the campaign thus far had been akin to a fairytale for both, especially for the Irish. The organizers might have rued the absence of India and Pakistan, but the fact that their respective vanquishers were playing in their stead accentuated a triumph for cricket as a whole.

Ten years on, as Bangladesh are in the midst of a tri-nation series in Ireland, also involving New Zealand, it is disappointing to note that there have been only seven ODIs played between Bangladesh and Ireland, and none in the last six years – the last time the two teams met in an ODI was at the 2011 World Cup. One does get the feeling that in the past few years, an opportunity to nurture what could have been a refreshing rivalry was lost.  

Back to 2007. In their previous two matches, Bangladesh had taken a prized scalp in the form of South Africa before running England close in a low-scorer. Ireland, on the other hand, had suffered sizeable defeats at the hands of New Zealand and Australia. From Ireland’s perspective, the clash against Bangladesh - the first ever international between the two green-clad teams - was crucial, as a win would earn them a spot in the ICC ODI Championship table.

Perhaps realising that batting second against Bangladesh’s spin-heavy attack could prove to be tough if the pitch began to turn later in the day, Irish captain Trent Johnston thought it wise to give his batsmen first use of the surface, which was clearly on the bouncier side at the outset. The left-handed opening pair of William Porterfield and Jeremy Bray consumed half of the innings’ overs, but their stand, taking advantage of some sloppy fielding, fetched a vital 92 runs.

This doggedness was a much-needed boost for Ireland, who had been shot out for 91 against the rampaging Australians just two days earlier. It took a run-out to end the resistance, as Bray was caught short of his crease for 31. Another run-out followed two overs later, this time with Eoin Morgan walking back. Shakib Al Hasan’s left-arm spin then got the better of Niall O’Brien, who swept straight to Tamim Iqbal at short third man, the score now reading 128/3 in the 34th over.

Porterfield held on with caution at the other end, and found an ideal foil in the form of the attacking Kevin O’Brien. The pair shared 48 runs from 49 balls for the fourth wicket, giving a significant push to the run rate, before Porterfield popped an easy catch to Mohammad Rafique at short fine leg off Mashrafe Mortaza. He finished with 85 in 136 balls, with only three fours, playing the sheet anchor role to perfection in testing conditions.

Johnston, along with Kevin O’Brien, hit out with spunk at the death to guide his team to a desirable total. O’Brien perished to a run-out – one of four in the innings – for 48 off 44 balls with two fours and as many sixes, while Johnston chipped in with a valuable 23-ball 30 before hoisting to Shariar Nafees at cover off Mortaza, who bowled tidily to collect 2/38, in the final over. The Irish innings wound up at 243/7, with 50 runs coming off the last five overs.

Ireland’s opening bowlers, the 6’8” tall Boyd Rankin and the strapping David Langford-Smith posed quite a few questions to the Bangladeshi openers Iqbal and Nafees, both of whom struggled to time the ball early on. Nafees eventually gloved a short one from Rankin to Niall O’Brien behind the wicket in the seventh over to give Ireland their first breakthrough. The bounce yet available from the pitch was certainly to Rankin’s liking.

Medium-pacer Andre Botha soon got into the act, striking off his very first delivery to have Aftab Ahmed caught behind and then ensuring that his fingers faintly touched the ball to run out Shakib, who was backing up too far, in his next over. Bangladesh were now in a spot of bother at 48/3 in the 13th over, which brought Mohammad Ashraful, match-winner in the win against South Africa, to the middle.

Ashraful immediately made his intentions clear, and went on a boundary-hitting spree in the course of a rapid fourth-wicket partnership of 45 with Iqbal. However, to Ireland’s relief, Johnson ended the free flow of runs by yorking Iqbal in the 20th over to transfer the pressure back on the Tigers. The big wicket of Ashraful (35) soon followed, as he hooked Rankin to Langford-Smith at fine leg, reducing the score 102/5 after 22 overs.

Ireland were now well on top and it was left to skipper Habibul Bashar to steady the ship. Even as he tried his best, he could not stop the procession at the other end. Three wickets fell in as many overs for seven runs as Bangladesh nosedived to 138/8 with more than 16 overs still remaining: off-spinner Kyle McCallan cleaned up Mushfiqur Rahim while Langford-Smith had Mortaza caught of his own bowling and Rafique caught by Johnston at mid-wicket.

Bashar and Abdul Razzak delayed the inevitable by adding 31 for the ninth wicket, but they were both dismissed in the space of five balls. Johnston fittingly castled Bashar’s off-stump off the second ball of the 42nd over to confirm Ireland’s second victory in the World Cup. Bangladesh were bowled out for 169, and this 74-run success enabled Ireland to make it to the ODI table, having satisfied the criteria of beating at least two full member nations in ODIs.

It was an archetypal team effort. Each of the five Irish bowlers bagged at least one wicket, with four of them taking two. Langford-Smith stood out for his economy, returning 2/27 from his ten overs. Porterfield was deservedly named man of the match for his effort that glued the Irish innings together and ultimately helped set a match-winning total. Within a month, Ireland had toppled two Test teams. Cricket’s new giant-killers had well and truly arrived.

Johnston, with a souvenir stump in tow, jubilantly led his team off the field, much to the delight of the ever-enthusiastic Irish supporters. Ireland’s concluding match, against Sri Lanka three days later, was an anti-climax as they were bowled out for 77, but it mattered little. Written off as rank outsiders and virtually unknown to the cricketing world prior to the tournament, Ireland had surpassed all expectations with their inspiring display.

Two years later, Ireland again beat Bangladesh in an ICC event, with a six-wicket win at Trent Bridge during the World Twenty20. Ireland’s only other ODI win over Bangladesh came in 2010, when they secured a comfortable seven-wicket win at Belfast with Porterfield (108), captain by now, being the star again. The 2011 World Cup match was an opportunity missed for Ireland – chasing a modest 205, they lost their last five wickets for 27 to go down by 27 runs.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket blogger and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of Test...

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