12 days after the World Cup began the Irish finally gave us a much-wanted upset. It could have been Netherlands a week prior instead, but on that day at Nagpur, the English cricketers just about rallied enough to etch out a win. But there was an extra edge to this encounter – an age old rivalry came into play. And although we haven’t seen much of it on the cricket field, there have been other arenas where an Ireland-England contest lights up the hearts of many.
The most recent one coming to mind is when England were pummelled 43-13 by Ireland in the 2007 Six Nations Rugby. It was the highest winning margin for the Irish against their rivals since 1947 and it was the highest points conceded by England since 1972. Then there was Italia 1990 when the two nations were drawn in the same group, and their league stage encounter was a highly entertaining draw. Kevin Sheedy equalised Gary Lineker’s opening strike and it saw both teams advance at the expense of Netherlands.
Two years earlier in the Euro 1988, the English party had been spoilt completely by a Ray Houghton strike in only the sixth minute. It was the only win for Ireland in that tournament whereas England failed to win even a solitary game, both going out at the group stage. There have been other moments that would stand out in this rivalry – Dennis Taylor beating world number one Steve Davis in the World Snooker Championship (1985) and Steve Collins beating the undefeated Chris Eubank for the WBO middleweight belt in 1994. Having said that, this epic win at Bangalore will probably stand out amidst all of them!
It is not to undermine their achievements in other sports, but in cricket, England enjoy the most hallowed of pedestals. They are the ones who gave birth to it all; it is their national sport and they take it upon themselves to play it the gentleman way, thereby promoting the cause of the game. Of course they desire to be champions as well and barring their recent upheaval of fortunes in Test and T20 cricket, that aspect still needs to be taken care of. 2011 was going to be that year and Kevin O’Brien has made sure that now there is more than a roadblock in Andrew Strauss’s way of lifting the trophy on April 2.
The track at M Chinnaswamy Stadium hasn’t been very kind to them.
First it allowed the Indians to set up a mammoth 338 and when they were standing on the doorsteps of an improbable win, the boisterous crowds helped MS Dhoni’s men to close that door. Two days later, they themselves set up a high target and hoped that the pitch would have shown enough wear and tear after 150 overs bowled on it. At 111 for 5 at the halfway stage, the Irish looked dead and buried, only for a pink-haired batsman to smack the fastest hundred in World Cup history and chase down 327.
It was just one of those days, coach Andy Flower could have told himself. Only that he shouldn’t for the appearance of such days has been quite alarmingly consistent for his team in the first two weeks itself. No one isn’t talking about their failure to win against India, for believe you may, they couldn’t have done anymore in that match. It is their insipid performance against Netherlands first, and then against Ireland now, that ought to trouble any English supporters travelling with their team. Truth be told they should have been sitting pretty on five points after three games. Instead they are circumspect at three points only and with South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies to play.
The biggest problem herein for England is not the points table, but that, two games ago their first eleven was looking solid and composed. Now there are major chunks of doubt evident and the bowling is much responsible for that. James Anderson’s form has tailed off from the Ashes and it seems he has taken the most hit of a lengthy winter schedule. The ploy of playing two spinners did not pay much dividend against the Indians – it was never going to – but that they failed against the Irish will have caused most cause of concern. Michael Yardy have away seven runs an over in a chase of 327 while Ajmal Shahzad sat out the game. Graeme Swann looked off colour and he will continue to do so if the others around him do not get their act together. With Stuart Broad struggling with a stomach upset, only Tim Bresnan has had to carry the weight and that is a whole lot of it.
You wouldn’t want to disturb the batting just yet. After all Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell are getting runs, never mind the big ones aren’t flowing smoothly. But the bust up has to be about using the batting power-plays. In two matches, their middle order has proven to be vastly ineffective and they have lost wickets as well as not made many runs. It cost them a win against India and Ireland were able to ‘restrict’ them to 327, thus setting up their own chase. The question is how do you get Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior to raise their game? The answer would have been one Eoin Morgan but his injury is proving to be very costly.
The format of this tournament is such that it allows teams to come back from an upset. But let the reality dawn now. With a close win against the Dutch and a loss to the Irish, even the one point against India begins to seem like a loss for their Net Run Rate has taken a severe hit. Matches against the Proteas and the Windies will not be easy, but England have only themselves to blame for making the Bangladesh tie a must-win game. Any more slip ups will have them wholly dependent on others’ results and that is never a comfortable thought. Even so, Ireland will not leave them alone just yet. At the press conference after their epic win, William Porterfield sounded off a warning to India ahead of their game on Sunday, but also added that they now only need to win two games at the most to really complicate the Group B table. And that is not a thought far away from the truth.
© Cricket World 2011