Ireland make England work hard for points
England overcame some uneasy moments with bat and in the field to record a comfortable 48-run win against Ireland in their opening Super Eights match. Paul Collingwood's 82-ball 90 nursed them to a respectable 266 aided by forties from Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. Ireland's batsmen couldn't stay up with the rate although Niall O'Brien fought a defiant hand while Flintoff added four wickets to his useful 43.
Ireland, though, were not shamed and made life difficult for England after Michael Vaughan decided to bat first. When Pietersen was removed the scoreline tottered at 113 for 4. But Collingwood, England's middle-order safety valve, again assessed the situation and calmly assured against a major collapse. Flintoff's dismissal in the 44th over left Collingwood to nurse the closing overs. His fifty came off 65 balls, then he showed that power-hitting doesn't just reside with the two men who sandwich him in the order. The final six overs added 71 runs and England always knew that all they then needed was a competent performance in the field; it was about all they produced.
The pitch was slightly two paced and early inroads into Ireland's top order meant they couldn't find any momentum. James Anderson removed the dangerous Jeremy Bray in his first over as the powerful opener tried to slash his first ball through the covers but found Ravi Bopara at point. Sajid Mahmood produced the next wicket, although it was his nifty flick onto the stumps rather than his bowling which accounted for Eoin Morgan.
With two of their key players gone so early the innings could have quickly faded away, but Ireland are made of sterner stuff and William Porterfield anchored the third-wicket stand with O'Brien. Ed Joyce dropped O'Brien early on as his poor day continued and reprieved, O'Brien managed to move along comfortably. However, Porterfield became bogged down as Vaughan set tight ring fields.
The pressure paid off as Porterfield got a leading edge off Flintoff then the spinners applied a tourniquet and squeezed the middle order. Monty Panesar bowled a touch too quickly but picked up Andre Botha and Kevin O'Brien to keep himself in the match. By far the most impressive spin for England came courtesy of their captain as Vaughan had his first ODI bowl since he turned his arm over against Australia, at Edgbaston, in 2005. His reward was O'Brien deceived by some teasing flight, but O'Brien deserves much praise for his second fifty of the tournament. A late dash by Trent Johnston and Andrew White showed up England's lack of rurthlessness before Flintoff ended any notions of a miraculous steal.
Yet while England completed their third consecutive win (all against Associates) they again failed to convince that they have the game to push the leading sides. There was a familiar appearance to the card; a limp effort from the top three, a blast from Pietersen and then a stylish finish by Collingwood to gloss over earlier failings. Boyd Rankin, the tall seamer, removed fellow Irishman Joyce with his first ball and added Vaughan in his third over to make the decision to bat first appear even stranger.
Pietersen immediately located the boundary, but Bell struggled painfully and his inability to find the boundary caused England to lose momentum. Bell's 74-ball grind eventually ended when he attempted to glide Kevin O'Brien down to third man and, crucially, Pietersen had also lost a large amount of his early impetus. The increase in pressure played a part in his dismissal as he advanced to Kyle McCallan and chipped a low catch to midwicket.
Flintoff entered having faced the grand total of one ball in the World Cup but Ireland were hit when Rankin was forced off with cramp with three overs unbowled. Flintoff was itching to launch the Irish attack into the surrounding padi fields, but Collingwood was actually the first to push his foot down. Just as Flintoff was set to follow suit he dragged Johnston into his stumps, ending a stand of 81 in 17 overs.
However, the Irish bowlers couldn't quite finish off the innings. Collingwood timed his charge and exploited a supply of full tosses, launching three sixes over long on, hitting 39 off his last 16 balls. A century was in sight when he started the final over needing 12, but a smart piece of work from Johnston cut him off 10 short. It typified Ireland's efforts in the field and their never-give-up attitude throughout will stand them in good stead for the rest of the Super Eights.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo