Shah spares England's blushes
Owais Shah’s seldom-used off-spin helped England avert a shock defeat to see off Ireland by three runs in a close-run one-day international in Belfast.
A matter of hours after celebrating Test series success over Australia, they appeared on course for a comprehensive defeat with the Irish well set chasing a revised target of 116 in 20 overs.
But Ireland slumped from 64 for two in the ninth over as England avoided the ignominy of losing to two minnows either side of winning their most cherished prize.
They lost to the Netherlands in the ICC World Twenty20 in June but managed to hold out this time as a makeshift attack prospered on a sluggish surface at Stormont.
Typically of the contest, however, there was a late twist as with 13 runs needed off the final three balls, Australian-raised Trent Johnston drove part-time spinner Shah for four.
With at least one six required from the final two deliveries, Johnston lofted to long-on and England 12th man Eoin Morgan, on for Graeme Swann and who played for Ireland the last time these sides met, prevented it clearing the rope by patting the ball back into play.
Johnston and Kyle McCallan, Ireland’s final pair, ran two but the quick-thinking by Morgan prevented a famous victory for his compatriots.
Johnston finished his 100th appearance for his adopted country by crashing the final ball for four.
Shah’s part-time spin wrecked the late innings, as he claimed three wickets in his first two overs.
England earlier posted 203 for nine and then sat around for three hours as persistent rain, which began during the interval, prevented the Irish beginning their pursuit until 5.35pm BST.
Although the wet weather returned briefly at the start of the innings, its latter half featured spells of warm sunshine intermingled with chilly winds.
Set their revised total, Ireland were intent on inflicting England’s latest low and were propelled along by teenager Paul Stirling’s positive intent.
Eighteen-year-old Stirling, on Middlesex’s books, hit four fours and a six in an attacking 30 which left them needing marginally over four runs per over for the final dozen overs.
England captain Paul Collingwood urged his team to build on the 2-1 win over the Australians but, resplendent in their new Ashes summer red one-day kit, they failed to develop real momentum with the bat.
Brit Oval hero Jonathan Trott fell for nought during a poor start to England’s batting effort and only fellow debutant Joe Denly and Luke Wright flourished on an overcast opening to the day.
Joe Denly struck 67, stabilising things after the early loss of two wickets, while Wright’s quickfire 36 injected the innings with impetus after England slipped to 135 for six towards the death.
An underwhelming opening included Trott, whose brilliant hundred on Test debut set up the 197-run over Australia last weekend, being trapped lbw by one which nipped back from man-of-the-match Johnston.
Opener Ravi Bopara, who was omitted for the decisive final Test, also went without scoring to Johnston, after edging a drive to second slip.
It meant England were forced to consolidate in a powerplay period designed for aggression.
Debutant Denly and Matt Prior shared 53-run alliance after coming together in the fifth over.
When rain stopped play in the seventh over, that duo had just come perilously close to being separated but they enjoyed a 20-minute reprieve on 11 for two after Denly’s skier off Johnston landed between Regan West and John Mooney, running back from mid-on and mid-off respectively.
Strokeplay proved extremely difficult on the slow surface. It was not until the 21st ball of the innings, in fact, that England scored a run off the bat, when Denly found the rope at extra cover with a drive off Kevin O’Brien.
Only 10 more fours followed in the entire innings, and a couple of those were via fine edges to third man, as the home attack exploited the responsive surface.
Johnston’s opening spell of 6-2-7-2 caused the initial problems for England and was a perfect way for him to celebrate his 100th appearance for his adopted nation.
Prior, Collingwood and Shah all perished to skied catches attempting big shots and when Denly was pinned leg before, looking to swivel the returning Johnston to the leg-side, England were in the middle of a batting powerplay with two new batsmen at the crease.
Sussex all-rounder Wright responded with some powerful strokes, however, in his first England one-day appearance for 12 months.
Twice he cleared the ropes as he scored all but six of a 42-run stand with Adil Rashid, another of England’s three ODI debutants.
Only a brilliant catch by John Mooney, who flung himself full length on the run from long-off, halted Wright’s 26-ball assault.
That gave Johnston final figures of 4-26 in conditions perfect for his medium-fast repertoire and ones in which the Irish would have been confident of claiming their most famous scalp.
The Associate nation with ODI status defeated both Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 2007 ICC World Cup and knocked Bangladesh out of the World Twenty20 this summer.
Although they brought a full-strength squad to Stormont - minus captain Andrew Strauss - England left out leading players Stuart Broad and James Anderson, as well as Morgan, who played for the hosts the last time the sides met here three years ago.