'I'm just glad it's out of the way' - Collingwood
Paul Collingwood was a relieved man at the end of a fraught day in Belfast, as England's cricketers survived a huge scare to see off the challenge of Ireland in a rain-affected contest at Stormont. Collingwood, who also led England to defeat against the Netherlands in the ICC World Twenty20 in June, had been braced for his second embarrassing defeat of an otherwise momentous summer, but in the end, England's greater knowhow had the final say as Ireland fell three runs short in pursuit of 116 in 20 overs.
After the match, however, any pleasure that Collingwood might have taken from a gutsy performance in inhospitably cold and damp conditions was overshadowed by his barely concealed frustration at an absurd piece of scheduling from the ECB. Had last week's Oval Test match gone the full distance, England would have had less than 24 hours to get their heads together after such an intensely emotional experience, and begin their journey from London to Belfast. The fact that that match finished a day early did not excuse the lack of thought that had gone into the planning.
"I'm just glad it's out of the way, to be honest with you," he said. "It was a very quick turnaround after the Ashes, and potentially a banana skin, but we stuck to our task, and we can take some positives out of this performance. The reason we've come over here is to give Irish cricket a good game. They got a lot of spectators, and I'm sure that's done them a world of good. But we have to be sensible about it. I'm just thankful we've managed to get the win at the end there."
Compared to the intensity on display at The Oval, the Stormont fixture was more of a glorified club game in which humiliation was the only real prize available to England. Despite the tight finish, it was not a contest with much artistic merit - the damp conditions changed the dynamics of the game, as did an unsympathetically adjusted Duckworth-Lewis target, which made England's seamers a liability with their extra pace, and left Collingwood gambling on Owais Shah's rarely used offspin to deliver him from disaster.
"The rain made it very difficult for our bowlers, and Shah was a gamble, simple as that," said Collingwood. "He doesn't bowl that often in one-day internationals but we know he's an offspinner and he did a fantastic job. The ball was gripping a lot, and he bowled into the pitch, which was the important thing to do.
"A few things went against us - the rain, and having 20 overs to bowl and eight overs of Powerplays made it difficult to defend, because it was very soggy out there - but we made it very difficult for them to knock the runs off, and we put them under a lot of pressure in the last ten overs. The good thing is the Irish spectators have seen a good game, but I'd have been very, very angry if we'd come off there with an injury."
Collingwood had special praise for Joe Denly, England's debutant opening batsman, who put himself firmly into the frame for a winter tour place with an impressive 67 from 111 balls that formed the backbone of England's hard-fought innings of 203 for 9. "It was a great debut, just for the way he kept a calm head," said Collingwood. "We batted first believing that was going to be a pretty flat pitch, but we misread the conditions. It was doing a fair bit, and it was a very mature innings to get us up to 200, which we thought was a decent score on this pitch."
That innings, however, would have been in vain had it not been for the pivotal moment of the match - the leap at long-on with which Eoin Morgan proved that his allegiance has firmly shifted from the land of his upbringing to the land of his professional career. Morgan's interception, from the penultimate ball of the match, saved five runs which would have left Johnston needing three more from Shah's final ball of the match to seal the contest for Ireland.
"That was unbelievable, it was a very modern piece of fielding," said Collingwood, who added that such manoeuvres were now a regular part of England's pre-match drills. "He threw his body up, caught it, and had the brains to throw it straight back down before it touched the floor. Things like that, particularly in Twenty20 cricket, can win you games, and today it's gone a long way to winning the game. We do a lot of specific practice on that, because it does creep up now and again."
For Ireland's captain, William Porterfield, there was no escaping the regret at a massive missed opportunity. His side had at one stage been 64 for 2 in the ninth over, and with a few more cool heads, they could have won at a canter. "It is obviously very, very disappointing," he said. "We should have won from that position - you should always win from that kind of position and that is what hurts."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo