Johnston heroics in vain for Ireland
England 203 for 9 (Denly 67, Johnston 4-26) beat Ireland 112 for 9 (Shah 3-15) by three runs (D/L method)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Eoin Morgan saved the blushes of his new England team-mates, and in the process broke the hearts of his former Ireland colleagues, as he pulled off an incredible piece of fielding on the long-on boundary to intercept a six from the penultimate ball of a compelling but flawed run-chase, and ultimately secure his adopted country a hard-fought two-run victory on the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Chasing a revised target of 116 in 20 overs after a three-hour delay for rain, Morgan - who had come onto the field as a substitute for Graeme Swann - timed his leap to perfection with nine runs needed for victory and only two balls and one wicket in hand. The momentum of Trent Johnston's blow seemed sure to carry him over the ropes for a maximum, but Morgan threw the ball back into play as he toppled backwards, and the match was won there and then. The umpire signalled one short in the confusion, leaving eight runs required from Owais Shah's final ball. Johnston blazed a final drive through the covers, but it was clearly not enough.
It proved to be the decisive moment in a remarkable game, but Ireland's players will know that they ought to have claimed their biggest scalp of an eventful year, only for the chance - unlike Morgan's fielding effort - to slip straight through their fingers. Needing less than a run a ball with ten wickets and eight Powerplay overs at their disposal, all the ingredients were in place for an upset, but England - to their credit - refused to succumb to embarrassment so soon after their Ashes triumph at The Oval.
The star of England's show was the debutant, Joe Denly, who opened the batting on a ground that holds many happy memories for him. He scored his maiden limited-overs hundred for Kent against Ireland in the Friends Provident Trophy in 2007, and he replicated that same composure to top-score with 67 from 111 balls. The Man of the Match award, however, went to Johnston, who was playing in his 100th match for Ireland and seeking a measure of revenge for his mother country, Australia. He removed both Ravi Bopara and Jonathan Trott for ducks before Denly was even off the mark, and eventually finished with the impressive figures of 4 for 26.
However, it was the six that got away that Johnston will remember for longest from this match. He eventually finished on 20 not out from 15 balls, but of the remainder of their line-up, only the youngster Paul Stirling managed to get a decent start. He reached 30 from 26 balls before chipping a return catch to the legspinner Adil Rashid, and from a comfortable 66 for 3 at the halfway mark of the chase, Ireland capitulated. Collingwood, sensing that the extra pace of his seamers was inviting trouble, used his own medium-pace to good effect, before Shah doubled his career wickets tally with a decisive three-over spell of offspin.
"Not ideal" was how Collingwood had described the timing of this fixture, and his assessment was a pretty apt summation of the entire performance. Moments before the start of the match, the ECB announced they were purging 50-over cricket from their domestic plans for 2010 onwards, and the timing of their release might have been intended as an alibi for a distracted performance.
The swift change of mindset from Test to limited-overs clearly did not help England to settle, and though Denly impressed on debut, only one other batsman, Luke Wright, was really able to make an impression. He rallied the tail with a hard-hitting 36 from 26 balls, before succumbing to John Mooney's catch of the match, a full-stretch diving effort at deep cover from Johnston's final ball of the match.
It was, however, a performance of steely nerve and impressive will-to-win from England, who are painfully aware of what they allowed to happen after their Ashes victory in 2005, and have resolved not to make the same mistakes again. This was, as Collingwood admitted, a very dangerous fixture to have to deal with so soon after the glory of The Oval, and to their credit they dealt with it and moved on.
The Duckworth-Lewis Method, incidentally, was very much the theme of the day on numerous different levels. First came the band of that name - the Irish cricket-themed chart-toppers fronted by Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy fame, who huddled under the scoreboard in the pouring rain and regaled the Belfast crowd with hits such as "Jiggery Pokery" and "The Age of Revolution". And then came the algorithm, to produce an even more divine comedy, as a match that had appeared destined for a cold and soggy abandonment sprung back into life at 5.36pm.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo