Irish cricket’s glory night – two years on
March 2nd 2013 by Cricket Ireland | International
On March 2 two years ago, Ireland’s cricketers pulled off one of the greatest shocks in sporting history.
Chasing a target of 328 against England in their World Cup group stage match, Kevin O’Brien hit the tournament’s fastest century ever as Ireland won with five balls to spare.
At home, the Irish economy was flatlining, the country desperately waiting for an EU-IMF bailout that would secure the banks, and without an effective government in the interim period between the February 25 election and the eventual formation of the new Fine Gael/Labour government.
Ireland needed a lift, and it came in the unlikely form of its cricket team. Pubs filled up on this ordinary Wednesday afternoon, offices ground to a halt, and when John Mooney hit the winning runs in the final over, radio broadcaster George Hook broke down in tears live on air.
Ireland were in Group B in the tournament, with co-hosts India, South Africa, England, West Indies, Bangladesh and fellow associate nation the Netherlands. The top four from the seven-team group would qualify for the quarter-finals, so Ireland realistically needed to win three games to have any chance of progression.
Niall O’Brien: “We targeted the Bangladesh and Holland games, as we knew we could beat both sides. Then we just hoped we could beat one of the bigger nations, and that would hopefully see us through to the next stage.”
Ireland lost their first game against Bangladesh in Dhaka on February 25 by 27 runs. Andre Botha took three wickets and Trent Johnston and George Dockrell two as Ireland bowled out the co-hosts for 205. However, Ireland slumped from a comfortable 75/2 in the 19th over and were dismissed for 178.
Niall O’Brien: “There was real disappointment and a feeling that an opportunity had been missed. We bowled and fielded well, and with the bat myself and Kevin were in a good position to go on and see the game home. One of us needed to be batting at the end of play – if instead of getting 30 or 35 we had stayed around and hit 50 or 60 that would have been the game.”
Trent Johnston: “It was two points that got away – we knew we were chasing our tail from that moment on.”
Niall O’Brien: “There wasn’t a bollocking from the coach afterwards – that is not really Phil Simmons’ style. But you could see by the look of people’s faces in the dressing-room that it was game that we felt we should have won.”
John Mooney: “I have probably never felt as disappointed as I did after that Bangladesh game. There was a lot of hurt, but going on to play England in the next one was probably the best thing we could have had.”
The Irish team travelled from Dhaka to Bangalore for the second game of their World Cup campaign, and watched their next opponents in action against India at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
The match was a high-scoring tie, with Sachin Tendulkar scoring 120 as India posted 338. England captain Andrew Strauss led from the front with 158 in the reply, and England scored 13 off the final over to level the scores.
Trent Johnston: “We saw they got 338 against India and we had a bit of a joke like: ‘Christ, what are they going to get against us?’”
Niall O’Brien: “We had seen the game between England and India and the one thing that stuck out was the quality of the wicket. We knew that it was a high-scoring ground, and that we could be chasing over 300 when we played England.”
So it proved, as England got to 72 without loss in the first ten overs. Jonathan Trott (92) and Ian Bell (81) carried on the scoring, and England were 274/2 going into the 43rd over and looking good for a total of over 350 from their 50 overs.
Trent Johnston: “It was a relatively small ground with a good wicket and a quick outfield so we were trying to minimise the poor balls. You can be an inch away from your target and go for four or six. These are the minute margins when trying to execute plans against top players.”
Mooney and Johnston bowled superbly in the final seven overs, as Ireland took 6 wickets for 49 to restrict England to 327/8.
Trent Johnston: “We felt we had taken the edge of their innings and that we had a bit of momentum.”
Niall O’Brien: “It sounds strange when we were going out to chase 328, but we were quite happy with the performance. John Mooney bowled brilliantly, Trent took a couple of wickets and at the interval we were all really up for it.”
John Mooney: “We came off the field content with what we had done. England took it for granted that they had a good score. We could sense that – the changing-rooms were next to each other and we could nearly feel the complacency. But we thought we were either going to win the game or go very close.”
The Ireland reply started disastrously when Ireland captain William Porterfield dragged the first ball from James Anderson onto his stumps. Ireland were 111/5 when Gary Wilson was dismissed in the 25th over, and Alex Cusack came to join Kevin O’Brien at the crease.
Alex Cusack: “A couple of words from Simmo got me going. He had noticed that some of our batsmen had got out with sweeps or playing across the line so he told me to play my natural game, straight down the ground.”
Cusack was at the other end as O’Brien launched into the England bowlers, scoring 96 runs in their sixth-wicket partnership of 162 in just 17.1 overs, to turn the game on its head.
Alex Cusack: “When we took the powerplay Kevin started hitting sixes and fours everywhere. I thought we had momentum then, and I realised my role was to keep him on strike.”
Trent Johnston: “Cusy realised that Kevin just needed the strike, and I don’t think Kevin was off the strike for more than two or three balls throughout his innings. They played off each other beautifully.”
Niall O’Brien: “I missed Kevin’s first 50 runs! I was sitting with Ed Joyce in the dressing-room and were both recently out, and annoyed with ourselves. Then we heard the roaring, the shouting and the clapping and went out to watch.”
Trent Johnston: “I generally sit next to Simmo and chat throughout the innings. At one stage he got a bit tense at the thought we might be winning this and was urging Kevin to calm down. I said to him: ‘Listen, he just has to keep going.’”
With 55 needed from 52 balls, O’Brien called Cusack for a sharp single, then changed his mind, and Cusack sacrificed his wicket having scored 47 from 58 balls. John Mooney was next man in, and ready to take Ireland over the finishing line.
Alex Cusack: “Kevin called me down for a single then said no. I was disappointed that we could not keep the partnership going.”
John Mooney: “I knew I had a personal responsibility. I knew that if I was there in the last over we were winning the game and I said so to Kevin when I went out there.”
In their partnership of 44, Mooney was the quicker scorer as O’Brien looked to rein in his attacking instincts. However, O’Brien was then run out going for an unwise two on the first ball of the penultimate over.
John Mooney: “We both agreed early that we go for two, but Kevin was tired and I don’t think he turned as well as he could have. All the England players were trying to get to me, telling me that I had run out Kevin and had lost the game.”
With 11 needed from 11 balls, Mooney was joined by the reassuring presence of Trent Johnston, who had hit the winning runs when Ireland beat Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup.
Trent Johnston: “This is what you train and work hard for, to walk out in that situation. The key was that Graeme Swann had bowled his overs. We were confident against the quicks on that quality of wicket. My gameplan was simple. If I couldn’t hit it for four or six, I would try and get a single and get Mooners on strike.”
Stuart Broad’s first delivery to Johnston was a low half-volley outside off stump that the former Ireland captain was able to thump to the boundary.
John Mooney: “When he hit that four I ran past him shouting: ‘You f***ing beauty!’ I never have given a man a kiss but I was close to it then.”
Mooney was on strike for the final over from Anderson, with three needed from six balls. The first ball was on the pads, and Mooney clipped the ball through midwicket for four to complete a remarkable victory.
John Mooney: “I did not know where Anderson was going to bowl it, or whether he might try a slower ball. But I realised I had six deliveries, and my thought was to keep the ball along the ground and not to try and premeditate anything. And he bowled me the perfect ball to hit. I don’t think I have ever hit a ball so well through the legside, and I don’t think I ever will again.”
To make things worse for England, the Irish team ended up celebrating the victory with their opposition’s beer supply.
John Mooney: “Halfway through the game England had their celebration crates of beer brought up to their dressing-room. Someone went in to swap the cases around at the end – it wasn’t us nicking it! They weren’t allowed a beer (after losing) and we obviously were. So our player liaison officer spoke to theirs and they had a little trade-off!”
England and Ireland were staying at the same hotel in Bangalore, and Strauss sportingly joined the Irish celebrations later in the evening.
John Mooney: “That night was Andrew Strauss’ birthday, and he, Matt Prior and Graeme Swann came down to our party and showed their faces. It was a lovely gesture from them, as they would have had to swallow an awful lot of humble pie to do it. It showed us respect, and it was very gracious of them.”
Ireland failed to qualify for the last eight, losing to India, South Africa and the West Indies, but by beating the Netherlands in the final group game they secured their status as the best associate nation in world cricket.
Nick Royle is a journalist who writes with Setanta Sports Ireland and Eurosport - This article first appeared on the Setanta website