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Cricket: Superb Irish pass acid test

ENGLAND got it wrong. Ireland got it right. And International Cricket Council executives are scratching their heads.

There! That’s my summary of yesterday’s historic Cricket World Cup Group B match in Bangalore.

The chin-stroking experts reckoned that the team that won the Ashes – England – would prove too formidable for a lowly Ireland side that doesn’t have Test match status and is regarded as merely an Associate member of a cricketing elite of 10 nations.

But yesterday, thanks to the exploits of coach Phil Simmons’ players, and particularly Kevin O’Brien, the World Cup was rescued from the doldrums.

It took Ireland to ignite what was shaping up to be a tedious tournament with a sensational fight back against England.

In doing so, Ireland have grabbed the attention of the ICC who, having already decided to limit the next World Cup to the 10 Test nations, might now begin considering ways to include Ireland at the top table. After all, Ireland has form.

At the last World Cup, they caused a sensational upset by defeating Pakistan on. That win was subsequently marred by the tragic death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer.

Back then, Ireland were essentially a team of amateurs. A lot has been achieved in the intervening four years. So much in fact that those who believe in Irish cricket were secretly convinced that yesterday’s upset was on the cards.

Ireland were certainly good for one upset this time around. With their tails up, not to mention the right pitch, Ireland could be good for another big scalp.

But it seemed that we’d blown our chance yesterday. What do you expect? We’d restricted one host nation, Bangladesh, to 205 and then lost all our wickets for 178.

Being faced with England’s 327-8 was bad enough, but then when your opening batsman is out first ball, well, the mountain you’re climbing gets a bit steeper.

About halfway through Ireland’s innings (24th over to be exact), Gary Wilson had gone (lbw for 3), so too had William Porterfield, Paul Sterling, Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien.

Ireland had 111 on the board. Against England. In Chinnaswammy Stadium. Under lights. Prickly heat. Mosquitoes. Dehydration. Delhi belly.

And an unholy racket from the stands that makes even closing time in Balbriggan seem like a gentle silent movie. What would you give for Ireland’s chances? But this was when things began to get interesting.

A blow-by-blow account isn’t possible. From there to the end, the match was a blistering kaleidoscope of thrills, spills (are you listening Andrew Strauss?) and sensational cricket from Ireland.

Yes, I expected much from this side before the tournament began. Yes, I believed this squad had experience and strength in depth with 10 of the side now full-time professionals.

Yes, I knew that this team had already come close to beating England on two occasions. Yes, I knew the team had excellent preparations for the World Cup campaign.

And yes, I was happy that Kevin O’Brien (62 not out) and Alex Cusack (47) had shown great form in the Zimbabwe warm-up game. But when an act of faith was called for, it was hard to bring oneself to dream.

It seemed like too big an ask. The beauty of cricket is that there’s always a chance. A batsman can cut loose and rack up the runs. But to do that he needs someone at the other end.

Equally, a bowler can play a blinder, and dismiss the opposition. Fielders can make a crucial catch or run-out. I watched Brian Lara score a record 375 against England in 1994.

But watching Kevin O’Brien score the fastest century in World Cup history yesterday was even more thrilling.

Equally impressive, if less spectacular, was the manner in which Alex Cusack (47) and John Mooney (34) aided O’Brien’s heist. The closer Ireland got to the summit, the more distant the 328 total seemed. But the figures kept changing. And Ireland played like calm, cool poolroom hustlers – 99 runs needed off 14 overs (84 balls); 53 off eight.

By the time an exhausted O’Brien was run out, Ireland needed 11 off 11. England’s heads had begun to hang low long before a nice little Mooney flick gave Ireland the winning runs and pandemonium broke out.

“We knew we could beat them,” insisted John Mooney afterwards. “We definitely believed we could pull off this result. We want to get into the quarter-finals and possibly the semifinals.

This was just one game for us.” One game. But a marvellous display and a sensational result.