Right, here we go then: England are about to hit the home straight, going into a home World Cup. And yet, they might not feel quite so at home in Malahide, where Ireland will be looking to add to their troubles after a rocky week for the ECB. England’s management have spent most of the build-up dealing with the fallout from the Alex Hales affair (an ongoing series), so the chance to play an actual cricket match will be a pleasant change in that respect.
Ireland rarely need much motivation when it comes to upsetting the English, but a few weeks out from a tournament in which Eoin Morgan – who switched allegiances exactly a decade ago – is hoping to lead his much-touted England side to a first global 50-over trophy… Well, that would go down like a pint of the black stuff at Gibney’s. Not least because this is the first World Cup at which Ireland will not be participating since 2003.
England may be the No. 1-ranked ODI nation, but it won’t be the No. 1-ranked team who walk out in north Dublin on Friday. Hales’ fall from grace aside, there are numerous absentees through (mostly) minor injuries and prescribed rest for England’s IPL contingent. However, the confirmation of a debut for Jofra Archer, the most-talked-about potential World Cup star yet to have played a single ODI, does add a layer of anticipation from an England perspective.
That aside, this is as much of a chance for James Vince to audition for Hales’ spot in the World Cup squad (if England don’t just give it to Archer); possible ODI debuts for Dawid Malan and Ben Foakes, who is in line to take the gloves after the shoulder injury that cruelly ruled out Sam Billings; and the jostling among the pace bowlers, with Chris Jordan, like his “little bro” Archer, trying to barge into World Cup contention.
Any sniff that England are taking this game lightly would only encourage Ireland further, but there should be no room for complacency in the wake of recent disruption. Hales was part of the camp that got together at the weekend but was subsequently removed to protect the England team “environment” – with Morgan now having given a frank assessment of how the squad felt. Morgan can at least point to England’s record against Ireland on his watch, with victories in Dublin in 2011 and 2013 (plus a washout in 2015), and last year’s 2-0 win on home soil.
For Ireland, the opportunity to claim a major scalp burns brightly – their last win over a Full Member (other than the recently promoted Afghanistan) came against Zimbabwe at the 2015 World Cup. They will also host West Indies and Bangladesh in a tri-series later this month, while the new FTP and forthcoming ODI league marks the next stage in their bid for more fixtures. But beating England, and emulating Scotland’s heroic effort in Edinburgh last year, would start their season on a sweet note.
Ireland WLWLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
For a long time considered one of Ireland’s most-promising talents, Andy Balbirnie has taken the long route to becoming a linchpin of the batting. He was released by Middlesex in 2016 and battled injury for a period but has blossomed in the last 18 months, scoring three ODI hundreds in the pivotal No. 3 spot. With Ireland’s class of 2011 slowly heading towards retirement, Balbirnie’s development has helped offset the loss of Ed Joyce, in particular, and at the age of 28 he should be coming into the prime of his career. Made a career-best 145 not out to guide Ireland to victory over Afghanistan in March and comes into this game on the back of another hundred for his province, Leinster.
There can be no other candidate. Fortunately, Jofra Archer looks a player born to be in the spotlight, having blazed a trail around the world in T20 leagues from the Big Bash to the IPL since making his debut for Sussex in 2016. His story is now well known: left out of the West Indies squad for the U-19 World Cup, he decided to make use of a British passport and set out to complete the seven-year qualification process to represent England. A change of rules reduced that period to three years and the clamour to get Archer involved in time for the World Cup has only grown since then. A 90mph bowler who can blast sixes and pull down the toughest catches, now is his chance to make an irresistible case.
Stuart Thompson has been ruled out with a shoulder injury, with former Warwickshire allrounder Mark Adair called up in his place. The spine of the team is full of experience, but there could be a debut for 19-year-old left-armer Josh Little.
Ireland: (possible) 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Andy Balbirnie, 4 Kevin O’Brien, 5 James McCollum/Lorcan Tucker, 6 Gary Wilson (wk), 7 Mark Adair, 8 George Dockrell, 9 Tim Murtagh, 10 Boyd Rankin, 11 Josh Little/Barry McCarthy
With Roy injured, Jonny Bairstow rested and Hales jettisoned, the stage is set for Vince and Malan to form England’s newest opening partnership. Joe Denly is set for his first ODI appearance in almost 10 years, with Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali among those given time off after the IPL. Ben Duckett and Jordan are the other options in England’s 13-man squad.
England: (possible) 1 James Vince, 2 Dawid Malan, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Joe Denly, 6 Ben Foakes (wk), 7 David Willey, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Liam Plunkett, 11 Tom Curran
Pitch and conditions
A classic green seamer that could have been designed for Tim Murtagh’s nibbly medium-pace. Having been undercover for the last two days, it is unlikely to be a deck for breaking batting records. It was raining in Dublin on Thursday, but the forecast for the match is for a largely clear – if bitingly cold – day.
Stats and trivia
Ireland’s only ODI victory over England remains the 2011 World Cup win at Bengaluru, when Kevin O’Brien went ballistic.
Gary Wilson is set to win his 100th ODI cap for Ireland.
Morgan is about to go past James Anderson (194) on England’s list of most-capped players in ODIs, with only Paul Collingwood (197) above him.
“He is exciting. The attributes and skills he has are good enough to play international cricket, it’s how he deals with the pressures that come with it and how he performs.” Eoin Morgan on the prospect of Archer’s debut
“England have knocked the benchmark up again in ODI cricket over the last couple of years. They’ve given ODI cricket an extra nudge. They’re knocking scores up by about 40 runs regardless of the surfaces they’re playing on.”
Will Porterfield on the challenge posed by England’s hard-hitting batsmen