England seal series but Curtis Campher gives Ireland hope
Ireland put in spirited performance but trail 2-0 with one match to play on Tuesday
Ireland’s Curtis Campher celebrates with Harry Tector after taking the wicket of England’s Tom Banton at the Ageas Bowl on Saturday. Photograph: PA
In a mismatch pronounced as this, between England’s world champions and Ireland’s team in transition, almost every card needs to fall the way of the underdog to cause an upset.
It’s just that, nobody has told Curtis Campher that this is how it’s meant to be.
Eventually, the hosts did as they were meant to in pursuit of 213, winning by four wickets with 105 balls to spare. But not before the import lit a fire under his new side with two wickets as soon as he was introduced - following another clutch half-century - which in turn inspired a further three in six balls from Josh Little.
At 137/6, with Eoin Morgan and Moeen Ali both dismissed without scoring, it was game on because of Campher’s insistence.
It’s to the credit of Sam Billings (46) and David Willey (47) that they were able to withstand that surge, adding an unbeaten 79 to wrap up the series, but much as it was after the opening clash, the hope the visitors take from the 21-year-old matches the faith he has in his ability.
When brought into the attack, Jonny Bairstow was putting on a clinic, having already clocked a 21-ball half-century. The main interest left in the contest appeared to be whether he would reach three figures inside 46 balls - the record for England in ODIs. But just as he did in the opening match, Campher struck with his fourth ball, ripping James Vince’s middle stump out with a beauty.
With his seventh ball, he was an inch away from skittling Tom Banton too, going on to trap him leg before in his third over.
Belief, and loads of it, from nowhere.
It rubbed off on Little, who copped the brunt of Bairstow’s sheer brutality: after 4.5 overs, he had 45 runs taken from him. But with Campher’s incision, the atmospherics had changed enough for him to stop the opener in his tracks, the recalled left-armer finding his edge on 82 from 41 balls.
In his sixth over, Morgan miscued a cue off his short one, Moeen top-edging a potent bumper three balls later. Sure, the stakes at play weren’t anything like those on that fateful night at Bangalore in 2011 - but beating this team, at this time, would have been something special. The fact that it appeared remotely possible this deep into the evening was expressly down to the import.
By now, you might be getting sick of his story - a South African recruit, playing for Ireland before taking the field there - but Campher’s achievements in his two-game career are making the cricket world take notice.
Master statistician Andrew Samson tried to put it in context: nobody has ever made a half-century and taken wickets in both of their first two ODIs. With the bat, he’s accomplished and careful but also - as we saw after he reached 50 today - strong and resourceful, in the same over clearing mid-off then reverse-lapping over third man.
It was all the more impressive that the tidy up job was on his shoulders again with his colleagues limping at 44/4. In some respects, it was more painful than when they slumped to 28/5 on Thursday, the low point when captain Andy Balbirnie fell to the part-time nothingness of James Vince.
Campher had help down the list, combining for 60 from 85 balls with Simi Singh after David Willey dispensed with openers Paul Stirling and Gareth Delany before Adil Rashid spun a tight web around Kevin O’Brien, Lorcan Tucker and Harry Tector - who battled hard for 28.
When Singh departed for a handy 25, it was Andy McBrine who took over, lifting the tempo for a run-a-ball 24 himself, joining the all-rounder for 56 in 44 balls to take the score from 151/7 to 207/8 when Campher was caught at third man for 68 from 87 deliveries with nine balls left - the highest score ODI ever by an Irish number seven. From a grim situation, 212/9 was a total to bowl to.
“Curtis is really impressing all of us on a day to day basis,” Balbirnie said after play of his man of the moment. “He’s a great person to captain because he will tell you exactly what he is going to do and you believe him. He has that ability to change the game; he’s been such an impact player for us already with both bat and the ball. He’s got that dogged fight and people want to bat with him with and bowl in partnerships with him.”
The series may be lost in straight sets, but whatever happens in the final game on Tuesday, they will return home safe in the knowledge that they have found a gem.