Rain saves England in tense washout
England inched their way into the Super Eights after a tense washed-out contest at Providence, as the same Guyana weather that had contributed to their downfall against West Indies came to their aid in a fraught and low-scoring contest against the underdogs of Ireland.
After being limited to a mediocre 120 for 8 following a superb bowling display led by Trent Johnston, England had restricted Ireland to 14 for 1 after 3.3 overs of their reply, but persistent bad weather denied them the chance to complete their run-chase, and so England went through by virtue of a superior run-rate.
It was a cruel way for Ireland's campaign to come to an end, because on a slow and cracked surface, their battery of medium-pacers had forced England to scrap for each and every single. And, in an ironic twist, the only man who came close to mastering the requirements was none other than the former Irishman, Eoin Morgan, who stood firm with a determined 45 from 37 balls.
The scenario was much as it had been when the teams last met in an international fixture, on a sticky surface at Belfast back in August, and then as now, the veteran Trent Johnston led the line impeccably. With lateral movement from a tight and full length, he claimed 1 for 14 in his four-over spell, with just a solitary boundary in his 24 deliveries, as Michael Lumb pulled a fractional short ball through midwicket for four.
Whereas Lumb and Craig Kieswetter had started like the clappers against West Indies on Monday, this time they found the shackles hard to break. Boyd Rankin spoiled his figures with a brace of leg-stump long-hops that Lumb clipped round the corner for two welcome boundaries, but that same shot soon proved to be his downfall, as Boyd Rankin stooped at short backward square to cling onto a sharp chance from the first ball of Kevin O'Brien's spell.
One ball earlier, Kieswetter had been badly dropped by Andre Botha as he edged a lifting seamer from Johnston through the slips, but he couldn't make his good fortune count. In Johnston's next over, he set off for a suicidal single to short midwicket and was rightly sent back by the stationary Kevin Pietersen. As he dived, his bat bounced in the crease, and after a lengthy analysis the third umpire, Asad Rauf, sent him on his way for 13.
In the same Johnston over, England's innings really hit the skids as Paul Collingwood edged a fizzing seamer to Botha at slip, who this time made no mistake to send the captain on his way for a third-ball duck. At 32 for 3 at the end of the Powerplay overs, England had made almost half as many runs as they had managed in their first six overs against West Indies, for the loss of three more wickets.
And three soon became four as Pietersen - who had been engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse with the 17-year-old left-arm spinner George Dockrell - picked out John Mooney with an exocet to deep square leg off O'Brien, in a near-replica of his dismissal in the West Indies game. At the halfway mark of the innings, England were floundering at 49 for 4, with all of their hopes invested in a certain former Irishman, Morgan.
Morgan did what he could in the trying circumstances, clipping Alex Cusack through short fine leg before bludgeoning Dockrell through midwicket, but at the other end, Luke Wright found the conditions especially tough to negotiate, and Dockrell tied him in knots in a masterful fourth over, consisting of five dot-balls in a row followed by a wild top-edged mow that landed in no-man's land for a single.
Ireland's reply was an anxious affair for both sides. England started diligently enough through Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom, but having conceded four runs from eight deliveries the rains arrived to force a 30-minute delay - much to Andy Flower's chagrin, who was seen banging the dressing-room table in disgust.
No overs had been lost when play resumed, and four balls after the resumption, Lumb took off at deep midwicket to cling onto a full-blooded pull to remove Paul Stirling for a duck, but Niall O'Brien belted two fours in a row moments before the second interruption to improve Ireland's hopes of a favourable Duckworth-Lewis calculation.
Had the match been able to resume 15 minutes before the cut-off time of 4.59pm local time, Ireland would have been set a target of 61 in nine overs. But it was not to be, as rain saved England, only 24 hours after apparently robbing them blind. Twenty20 is indeed an unpredictable form of the game.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo