The Irish batsmen raise their bats to recognise the applause upon reaching their half-century… oh no, wait!
50 all out before lunch and having even gone off for rain!
Paul Stirling achieved duck avoidance with an edge for four but it was his only scoring shot and set the tone for what was to come. James Anderson, dancing on his home deck, had Stirling superbly caught in the slips by Rory Burns and things didn’t get any better for the visitors. Anderson soon doubled his tally when he bagged Andrew Balbirnie for a duck before Stuart Broad also struck twice. Surrey’s Sam Curran, our leading wicket taker in the competition, struck with his second delivery and thought he’d done so again the very next ball. The LBW decision was overturned however before we reviewed one ourselves the following delivery. It was an almost identical ball and was correctly given not out… just! Chris Woakes, fresh from being rested for the USA match then made an immediate impact by striking with the post rain-break’s premier delivery. Warwickshire’s Woakes went onto claim absurd analysis of 3-6 including the prize scalp of opening bat William Porterfield. Porterfield grafted for 18 from all of 70 deliveries, the only real resistance in the Irish batting effort though James McCollum made a pretty 11. Spin-bowler Moeen Ali got in on the act too courtesy of a sharp catch by gloveman Jonny Bairstow.
We’d expected to be presented with a real challenge from Ireland as both sides competed for second spot in the table and keeping table-topping Scotland in sights. We won the toss, chose to bowl in difficult batting conditions at Old Trafford and thoroughly exploited said conditions. Though ripping through a side is enjoyable we much prefer a challenge. It wasn’t a great start from Ireland but we knew there was still a long way to go.
Credit then to Ireland who surprised everybody by opening the bowling with spin and it soon did the trick. Rory Burns fell in all too familiar fashion, caught behind off the bowling of James Cameron-Dow for only 9. His dismissal left his place in the XI on a precipice.
Ben Duckett promptly took guard then relocated the ball into the outfield and off he set. Sadly Haseeb Hameed, fresh from a ton against America and hoping to repeat the feat on his home turf, was run out for 6 coming back for a second. Duckett then batted as he often has before, looking comfortable and striking two or three wonderful boundaries. At lunch he’d reached 33 from 36 meanwhile captain Joe Root had raced to a run-a-ball 44. The pair aided our recovery from 17-2 to 99-2. The question was could Root, having made a three fifties in the competition so far, go big and could Duckett save his Test career?
Root soon surpassed fifty and he and Duckett had compiled 113 when the captain nicked behind off the spin of Andy McBrine for 60. Then, just when Duckett seemed to have cemented his place for the immediate future, he ran himself out for 49. The Shamrock spinners stymied the left-hander’s scoring and he allowed the pressure to manifest itself. He was far too casual when trying to sneak a single and failed to ground his bat in time. It was a horrible end to an innings that had promised so much and rather summed up Duckett’s Test career so far.
Suddenly it was all going off as Jos Buttler, having made just one, was put down off the next ball. The drop didn’t prove costly as Buttler fell for only 6 before Moeen inexplicably joined the run out victims having made just 4. It was an embarrassing and unacceptable passage of play on our part.
The procession continued at break neck speed as Sam Curran was caught behind for 6 then Bairstow joined for only 10. YJB dragged on via his boot from possibly the slowest delivery in history. Broad was next to go, clean bowled for 8 to become part-timer Stirling’s (3-25) third wicket. When George Dockrell dismissed hometown hero Anderson for 6, we’d lost 8 wickets for 58 runs and our self-implosion was complete. We totalled 188, a lead of 138 with Chris Woakes stranded on 15. Despite a healthy lead the boys headed back to the changing room to take a long hard look at themselves and face some harsh truths!
After our batting collapse the team came out fired up and determined to right some wrongs. We soon made a crucial breakthrough before tea when local lad Anderson trapped Stirling (14) LBW and Ireland closed the session on 28-1. The final session was then entirely lost to rain. Though 21 wickets fell on the first day’s play, the NWHTC Pitch Inspection Squad were happy with the surface. Three of the wickets fell to run outs, our bowlers exploited a juicy deck on a damp morning before our batsmen then crumbled under pressure against spin. In short, the pitch wasn’t at fault.
On a rain interrupted second morning Ireland progressed to 57-1 before normality resumed. Anderson feasted in familiar surroundings having Balbirnie caught behind for 12, the crucial wicket of Porterfield played on for 53 then Kevin O’Brien inside edged to Bairstow first ball. Stumper Stuart Poynter survived until drinks but Ireland were 88-4, still half a century behind. Because of the rain and interruptions in play, Anderson and Broad bowled in tandem for the opening 23 overs of the innings before Curran and Woakes entered the fray. Woakes was soon in on the act picking up where he left off in the first innings. Poynter had reached 10 before he became yet another victim of the Bairstow catching machine, nicking a full and unplayable delivery from Woakes. Batting then got easier as the pitch dried out but take nothing away from the Irish batsmen who resisted well. In fact McCollum (56 not out) and Stuart Thompson (53 not out) did more than resist and lifted Ireland from 99-5 to 201-5 at tea, a lead of 63.
After a period of immense frustration for our side, Stuart Broad (1-66) finally split the partnership when he trapped McCollum plumb in front for an excellent 71. At 227-6 the Irish lead was up to 89. Sam Curran (1-53) then dismissed Dockrell for 9 before Moeen cruelly terminated Thompson’s innings twelve runs short of a maiden Test ton. Moeen (2-42) also accounted for McBrine on 11. Skipper Root then brought back Anderson in search of the final wicket and a five-wicket haul. It turned out to be a regrettable move as the Lancashire Express (4-70) sustained an injury when executing the final delivery of the over. Ireland closed day two on a commendable 294-9, a lead of 156 runs.
On the third day rain again delayed the start but after some overthrows helped get Cameron-Dow on strike, Woakes (2-39) duly snapped him up caught behind by Bairstow (10 catches in the match) for his second wicket of the innings. 308 was the Irish innings total meaning that we required a potentially tricky 171 to win. For under pressure opener Burns it had the potential to be a career defining day.
Haseeb Hameed’s hometown horror continued when he was clean bowled by Tim Murtagh for just 1. Something about a show and a Lord Mayor! Burns and Duckett then progressed to 36-1 when the heavens opened once again.
To the very first delivery after rain Burns swiped at a full length Murtagh delivery outside off stump that was angling away from him, nicked it to Poynter and having made only 16, walked off the field leaving us with a difficult decision to make for the trip to the Netherlands.
Duckett knuckled down however, kept the boundaries in his locker and ran his way to 51. He then edged behind off Dockrell but his match aggregate of 100 runs was absolutely essential. In this innings he stepped up under huge pressure and can hopefully build on this. Duckett’s departure brought Buttler to the crease and he and Root batted sensibly to move from 120-3 to 165-3 at tea. We tucked into our tea and scones just five runs from victory but with an eagle eye on the clouds.
In the second over after the interval Root (77 not out) and Buttler (20 not out), on his adopted home ground, reached their fifty partnership and saw us comfortably home for a seven-wicket victory.
There were some ups and downs in the match and Ireland made us work hard which was something we needed after a few relatively easy victories in previous matches. Our first innings batting performance was below par but the boys applied themselves well second time around. Root made fifties in both innings and the contributions of Ben Duckett were particularly welcome.
Clearly Rory Burns double failure was disappointing. His sequence of scores in the competition reads 26, 44, 9, 57, 34, 9 & 16 at an average of 27.86. That’s by no means a disgrace but Test cricket demands greater returns.
Our bowling unit maintained their high standards and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow has now claimed 32 dismissals in just four matches, ten clear of the next best in the competition.
Next up for us it’s a trip to the continent to take on the Dutch. It’s an opportunity for our batsmen to test themselves against one of the NWHTC’s leading bowlers in the form of Fred Klassen. Look out for our squad announcement soon.