Last July, a little over a week after England reached the summit of 50-over cricket by winning the 2019 World Cup, they faced Ireland in the first-ever Test between the two sides at Lord’s. A handful of England’s playing XI in that Test were part of the victorious World Cup squad, so the hosts came into the game with a lot of confidence.
Ireland, on the other hand, hadn’t qualified for the World Cup – it was the first time they weren’t at the tournament since 2003. This was mainly because the number of participants in ODI cricket’s premier competition were reduced to 10. While there was obvious disappointment with regards to missing out on the World Cup, Ireland had gained Test status in 2017 and played their first match in international cricket’s oldest format a year later which came as a major boost. Going by their performances in the shorter formats since their impressive showing at the 2007 World Cup, it was well deserved.
Before the Test against England in July 2019, the Irish had featured in just two Tests – against Pakistan and Afghanistan – and had lost on both occasions. Hence, the match at Lord’s was expected to be a pretty one-sided affair.
On day one of the Test, England were in for quite a shock. Batting first, Joe Root’s side were bowled out for just 85. While the hosts did come back strongly to win the Test, Ireland had shown that they can compete with the top teams and it wasn’t the first time that they had surprised England.
The 2011 World Cup contest between the two teams is still fresh in the minds of everyone who watched it. Ireland, on the back of a magnificent century from Kevin O’Brien, defeated England by three wickets in the most memorable of matches at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
But in the other eight completed ODIs between them, England have won each time – this, despite some fighting performances from Ireland.
Last year, when they faced each other in an ODI ahead of the World Cup, England were given another scare. While chasing a modest target of 199 from 45 overs, Eoin Morgan’s side found themselves reduced to 66/5 and then 101/6. They eventually won thanks to crucial contributions with the bat from Ben Foakes and Tom Curran.
In that match, which was held in Dublin, it’s fair to say that England were, to some extent, testing their bench strength ahead of the World Cup. When the two teams clash in a three-match ODI series, starting Thursday, the Morgan-led team will be without some of their key players this time too, albeit for different reasons.
With the Test series against West Indies having completed on Tuesday, no player who was part of the red-ball squad will play the ODIs. This means that Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood all miss out.
This should present Ireland with an array of hope against the world champions who have been terrific in one-day cricket over the last five years. Since the start of 2016, they comfortably have the best win/loss ratio in ODIs, having won 59 (including one via Super Over) and lost just 21 matches in the format.
While England might be without some of their first-choice batsmen in the middle-order, they will have the excellent duo of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow opening the batting. Since 2017, no partnership in ODIs has yielded more runs (2375) or century-stands (11) than Roy and Bairstow. Astonishingly, they have managed to produce such incredible consistency – a partnership average of 65.97 during the said period – while scoring at a rapid rate (7.06 runs per over).
It’s no surprise then that between overs 1-10, England have enjoyed the best batting average (50.2) and strike rate (98.7) since 2017.
It might be cliché to say that good starts give you a better chance of winning matches. But here, you feel it’s more applicable than most other occasions. Ireland must be at their best during the first Powerplay in both innings to challenge the World Cup winners.
During the England innings, if Roy and Bairstow get off to a top start, the match might be beyond Ireland’s reach before they know it. And when it comes to their own batting, captain Andy Balbirnie and vice-captain Paul Stirling – both of whom bat in the top three – have been their best performers in recent times and it’s crucial that they make useful contributions.
Since the start of 2019, Stirling and Balbirnie are the only two Irish batsmen with batting averages of above 40 in ODIs. Hence, their importance cannot be understated.
While the odds might be stacked against Ireland, they will be no pushovers as England very well know from their past matches.
Ground and Weather Conditions
Like most stadiums in England, The Ageas Bowl in Southampton has favoured batting in ODIs in recent years. In fact, since 2016, it has the highest batting average among all venues in England in 50-over international cricket.
The weather is often a concern when it comes to cricket in England. On this occasion though, according to the forecast for Thursday, rain isn’t expected to affect proceedings.
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Tom Banton, Sam Billings, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Joe Denly, Saqib Mahmood, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Reece Topley, James Vince, David Willey
Ireland: Andy Balbirnie (c), Paul Stirling, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, Josh Little, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Kevin O'Brien, William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Craig Young
NOTE: This will also be the first match in the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Super League. Read more about it here.