An 85-run defeat never looks good but Ireland’s second defeat to England in three days at Lord’s on Sunday certainly didn’t have the traumatic effect that Friday’s seven-wicket loss in Bristol had on players and supporters alike.
Indeed, the estimated 5,000 Irish supporters in a crowd of 22,000 at the `Home of Cricket' were engaged right until the end, cheering on Trinity College student George Dockrell as he made his highest ODI score of 28 before being bowled by England paceman Mark Wood to bring an end to Ireland's innings on 243 with the first ball of the 47th over.
Earlier, Ireland had put England in to bat on a chilly, overcast morning in north-west London, a wonderful third-wicket stand between England skipper Eoin Morgan (76) and Joe Root (73) setting the foundation for their total of 328 for six.
It allowed the red-hot Jonny Bairstow have free-hand to hit an unbeaten 72 from 44 balls to get England over the 300 mark. The runs he put on with his Yorkshire team-mate Adil Rashid, who hit 39 from 25 balls, took the game away from Ireland in the last 10 overs. Indeed, England hit 99 runs from the final 49 deliveries after the sun made its belated breakthrough late in the first innings.
There were standout performances from Ireland with both ball and bat, with Barry McCarthy making a mockery of being left out in Bristol with two wickets, his figures (two for 61 in 10 overs) damaged by the late onslaught by Bairstow and Rashid.
Tim Murtagh set the tone for Ireland's improved display, bowling a brilliant opening spell from his favoured Nursery Ground end, while Peter Chase proved a quick learner of the difficulties of bowling downhill from the Pavilion End as he came back from a wayward opening spell to take the wickets of Root and Rashid.
Paul Stirling looked set to turn a cameo into a starring role after an audacious attack on the England seamers early on, but the Middlesex batsman would fall two runs shy of a half-century on his home ground.
Ireland skipper William Porterfield made light of the pressure that has grown on his leadership role due to the side’s poor results to keep hopes alive, making a wonderful 82 from 83 balls before playing a risky ramp shot against Wood and seeing his stumps dismantled.
Kevin O'Brien had gone before his captain after an enticing hint that he was in the mood to repeat the heroics of Bangalore and the World Cup win over England. Two early sixes, making use of the short boundaries on the Grandstand side, had the Irish support on their feet, but an attempt at a third maximum off Rashid's leg-spin saw him top edge to Jake Ball at backward square leg for 18.
Porterfield looked completely demoralised while talking after Friday’s defeat at Bristol but the Warwickshire player was a lot more chipper at Lord’s as Ireland prepare for the home Tri-Nations series against New Zealand and Bangladesh, which gets underway in Malahide on Friday against the Tigers.
“I was very proud of the first half, especially of how we went out there with the ball,” said Porterfield. “I thought we bowled very well and we could have quite easily restricted them to even 20 less.
“But I was happy with how we went out there and how we bowled and looked to take wickets and look to restrict them. Even when they had a big partnership with Moggy and Root, we clawed them back still even further from that, although Bairstow played a great hand at the end.
“I think that today we put up a bit more fight with the bat, especially as they had to get us out as opposed to a few soft dismissals. And we were only ever a couple of wickets behind the game most of the way, if we had those couple of wickets in hand there at the back end of the last 15 then it could have been a very interesting game.”
Porterfield praised McCarthy for coming back from recent setbacks to put in such a polished performance with the ball on the biggest stage the 24-year-old Durham all-rounder has played on.
“All credit goes to him for his preparation, he’s been left out of the last few games now. That’s been a frustrating thing for himself, for him to come in and be ready to play and to put in the performance he did showed a great attitude and he got his rewards, I thought he bowled very well,” said Porterfield.
McCarthy, from the Pembroke club in Sandymount, summed up the thrill of the occasion of playing at Lord’s in front of friends and family.
“It was unbelievable, going around the boundary and seeing people you know from club cricket, and even some I played against a few years ago. People who got me out, people who I got out, so it was a really good occasion,” said McCarthy.
Turning his attention to the Tri-Nations series, Porterfield forecasted that Ireland will be ready and raring to go for Friday’s opener against Bangladesh and Sunday’s meeting with New Zealand, with both games taking place in Malahide.
“It definitely will [lift the mood] especially having the chance to put things right,” added Porterfield. “It would have been difficult to walk away just having Friday’s game and I think we put a lot of things right today and we’ve got to keep improving and keep moving up.”
So a massive week for Irish cricket ends with two losses, but Sunday’s defeat at least had shafts of light for the rest of a busy month ahead. A win or two in the Tri-Nations over the coming weeks and Bristol will just be a bad memory.