Willey and Billings help England survive Ireland scare in second ODI

By on August 2, 2020


Just as the sun started to set and the floodlights were no longer a complete irrelevance the series came alive for a while. England were chasing what is often regarded as a paltry target in the modern game, 213. They were 131 for three and Jonny Bairstow was causing havoc. Having equalled the fastest 50 by an Englishman – from 21 balls – there was still a possibility that he might post a hundred at record speed. Whereupon an unlikely intervention came from Josh Little, the bustling left-arm paceman, not selected for the first match.

Little had been pummelled mercilessly by Bairstow in his first spell and more of the same was on the cards in his second after two dismissive straight drives. His gander was up and when Bairstow swung once more there was an edge to the keeper; Little may have had a word judging by the way Bairstow swung round as he headed off to the pavilion.

England were in no great strife at 131 for four but now Little seemed to adopt the persona of New Zealand’s Neil Wagner. He is a similar height and has a similar method, a left-armer prepared to bang the ball into the middle of the pitch. In his next over he dispatched England’s captain and vice-captain for ducks. Eoin Morgan cut a short ball straight to cover; then Moeen Ali, surprised by the pace, spliced a hook shot in the air to be caught by the wicketkeeper.

Suddenly England needed 76 runs with four wickets remaining and the Irish exhortations echoed around the grounds. Now England were fortunate to have their form cricketers thrown together; the perennial nearly men took centre stage once again. David Willey and Sam Billings are both enjoying their renaissance and brimful of confidence. They took a little while to steady a rocking ship and then calmly met just about everything in the middle of increasingly broad bats.

The England upper order is not as invincible as advertised at the moment. Here Bairstow had been imperious and carefree and he struck the ball disdainfully from his presence in an innings that included 14 fours and two sixes. But the others looked surprisingly fallible. Jason Roy did well to reach his third ball from Craig Young and managed to spoon it to cover; James Vince settled and then departed bowled through the gate by the irrepressible Curtis Campher. At the moment Tom Banton, for all his striking power, seems to have a lot of ways of getting out, usually to Campher.

So England prevailed again, albeit messily, by four wickets. Ireland’s target was, indeed, too small after all even if they had made England sweat for a while. Their captain Andy Balbirnie and coach Graham Ford have been around long enough to realise that the rebuilding process can be painful. Unfortunately as Ireland’s status in world cricket advanced with the granting of Test status many of their best players were coming towards the end of their careers.



Curtis Campher prepares to sweep off Reece Topley’s bowling to bring up his 50, on his way to 68 for Ireland. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

In the first game Balbirnie opted to play youngsters and Ireland were thrashed. Boldly – and correctly – he stuck to his plans for this match. But it was still a struggle for the Irish batsmen even though they managed to bat for 50 overs this time. Their main problem in this series does not lie with the youngsters. They desperately need their senior citizens, Paul Stirling, Balbirnie himself and Kevin O’Brien to show the way with the newcomers skimming along in their wake but so far they have been unable to deliver.

Instead there have been a few shafts of light from those youngsters. In particular Campher, who has yet to play a game of cricket in Ireland, has responded superbly to his sudden opportunity to play international cricket with scores of 59 not out on Thursday and 68 on Saturday, which enabled his side to recover from the depths of 91 for six.

However the overall picture had been one of Irish anguish and their tormentors were the same as on Thursday. Willey, bang on target with his new ball once again, snaffled two early wickets and before long Adil Rashid was baffling batsmen, young and old. Willey made the breakthrough in his third over when Gareth Delany was palpably lbw; in his next one Stirling drove with minimal foot movement and Banton at backward point pulled off a fine diving catch.

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Willey continued to pose a threat alongside Reece Topley, who replaced Tom Curran in the side, his first match for England since 2016. This was the ninth time that England had opened the bowling with two left-armers in ODI cricket. On the other eight occasions the bowlers were also Willey and Topley.

There was a little recovery before Balbirnie endured a nightmarish dismissal as Vince contrived his first wicket in international cricket. Vince bowls rare medium pace; in List A cricket for Hampshire he has taken two wickets in 137 matches. But this did not deter Morgan. Soon a ballooning bouncer surprised Balbirnie, who started to cut, changed his mind and failed to remove his bat quickly enough.

Then Rashid, who finished with three for 34, completely flummoxed O’Brien with his googly and thereafter he toyed with the batsmen. The lower order rallied as it did on Thursday. Campher, who might have to be promoted up the order on this evidence, received useful support from Simi Singh and Andy McBrine. In the final overs Campher finally had the leeway to improvise, which he did cleverly with lofted drives and a reverse ramp. Another brave innings in another Irish defeat.



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