England's win fails to hide cracks
England began their one-day season with an unspectacular 38-run win in their inaugural match against Ireland at Stormont. Before today, Ireland had played every international side apart from England - and the sell-out crowd were rightly expecting a riotous display from England. That they were made to work so hard - both in their batting and in defending the 302 total - spoke volumes of a team out of form, not to mention a plucky Irish side brimming with determination.
Set a sizeable 302 for an unlikely win, they were given a confident start by Jeremy Bray and Andre Botha who put on fifty for the second wicket after Steve Harmison had removed Dominick Joyce for a duck in his first over. Although the early strike boosted England, it was a disappointing opening over from Harmison who twice conceded five wides, and the scattergun approach in his opening over rather set the precedent for an underwhelming 10 overs.
Playing in his first international since before Christmas, his smooth approach to the crease and several rip-snorting deliveries gave the impression he was finding his form - but he certainly hadn't found his radar, which rarely pointed in the same place twice. So Ireland capitalised, with Botha cutting him with ease, and nudging singles without alarm.
Indeed, Ireland at this stage were rollicking along at over six runs per over, until Bray - a gritty, impish sort of batsman - fell to Sajid Mahmood who, along with Liam Plunkett, showed the more experienced members of this new-look England side the benefits of bowling straight. Even Lancashire's ever-dependable Glen Chapple, making his debut for England, lacked spice and rarely threatened the stumps. Threatening the stumps wasn't something England's fielders could manage, either, in what was a dreadfully slapdash display. Even Paul Collingwood, so often faultlessly brilliant in the covers, took his eye off the ball as he and his team-mates slipped around Stormont as though they were playing in a tub of margarine.
With the loss of Bray, the Ireland innings went into hibernation as Kyle McCallan and Botha nurdled a stabilising partnership of 58 with Botha bringing up a richly-deserved fifty. But their lack of experience told, and Ireland lost four wickets in three overs - two apiece to Harmison and Paul Collingwood - as the home side's resistance began to fade. Despite some lower-order entertainment, which finally woke up a subdued crowd, Ireland fell to a 38-run loss - but arguably left the field the happier of the two teams.
"I thought they played really well, and put us under pressure," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss. "But we're pretty happy with the run out; most of the things we set out to do we did. Full credit to Ireland though who played really well, and showed what they're capable of."
When Marcus Trescothick was bashing his 11th one-day hundred earlier in the day, it seemed England would waltz past the Irish without resistance. It wasn't to be. Only Trescothick had the application and power to take advantage of the treats on offer. Strauss, captaining England for the third time in one-dayers, played a fairly forgettable shot when he pulled the impressive Kevin O'Brien straight Botha at backward square. Worse was to come, when Collingwood drove uppishly, and wastefully, and Ed Joyce miscued a bouncer. Only Trescothick - pounding boundaries at will, and looking in wonderful form - could force the pace.
Ian Bell, though lacking in any fluency, did at least partner Trescothick in a fine fourth-wicket stand of 142, but both fell in quick succession when the lure of the last ten overs proved too much.
England were always likely to win - Ireland threatened briefly in their reply, but their inexperience told - but it was an underwhelming effort from them. They must lift their game, and fast, if they are to combat an energetic Sri Lanka at Lord's on Saturday.
Dominick Joyce b Harmison 0 (10 for 1)
Brisk lifter, played on
Jeremy Bray c Collingwood b Mahmood 22 (60 for 2)
Cut straight to point
Kyle McCallan c Jones b Harmison 24 (118 for 3)
Thin edge to pacey delivery
Peter Gillespie c Joyce b Collingwood 0 (121 for 4)
Mistimed to mid-off
Trent Johnston c Collingwood b Harmison 5 (127 for 5)
Cut straight to backward point
Andre Botha b Collingwood 52 (135 for 6)
Played all around a straight one
Kevin O'Brien c Plunkett b Bell 35 (209 for 7)
Miscued sweep to a short fine-leg
Andrew White c Jones b Bell 40 (210 for 8)
Thin edge to wicketkeeper, tidy catch
David Langford-Smith st Jones b Dalrymple 12 (235 for 9)
Beaten in the flight
Ed Joyce c O'Brien b Langford Smith 10 (37 for 1)
Miscued pull to midwicket, good tumbling catch
Andrew Strauss c Botha b O'Brien 4 (60 for 2)
Rank long-hop pulled tamely to backward-square
Paul Collingwood c Johnston b Mooney (93 for 3)
Drove outswinger to extra cover, fine diving catch
Marcus Trescothick c P Mooney b J Mooney 113 (234 for 4)
Miscued slog-sweep to long-on
Ian Bell c Joyce b J Mooney 79 (258 for 5)
Chipped to midwicket
Jamie Dalrymple c P Mooney b Langford-Smith 17 (264 for 5)
Top-edged to fine-leg
Glen Chapple c O'Brien b Langford-Smith 14 (285 for 6)
Gave himself room, very well caught diving forward at third-man
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo