An exciting and busy international summer for the England cricket team has got underway with two one-day international (ODI) victories over Ireland at Bristol's Brightside Ground and at Lord's.
On Friday (May 6th), the two sides met in Bristol for what was Ireland's first match against England on English soil, another landmark for an emerging cricketing nation that will discover next month if it has achieved the holy grail of Test match status.
Ireland were hoping to produce some good performances to give their cause a timely boost, something that caused coach John Bracewell to admit they were very tense before the game in Bristol.
The result was a poor Irish batting display that made England's task a simple one. Adil Rashid picked up 5-27, the second best figures for an English spinner in an ODI, while Joe Root picked up two for just nine runs. In conditions hardly tailor-made for slow bowlers, Ireland collapsed from 81-2 to 126 all out. While Jason Roy fell for a duck to give Ireland brief hope, a belligerent 55 from Alex Hales set up a seven-wicket win.
Lord's provided a much better contest, after Ireland won the toss and decided to bowl in overcast conditions. Although Hales and Roy added 49 for the first wicket, they did so in a cautious manner, their main scoring shots being straight drives from full deliveries and pulls of short balls. Tim Murtagh, the English-born Middlesex seamer, bowled tightly on his home ground.
After both openers fell in quick succession, Test skipper Joe Root and ODI captain Eoin Morgan came together in a partnership of 140 before Root's run-a-ball 73 ended with a sliced drive to mid-off. Morgan then fell for 76 and Sam Billings for seven as England stuttered.
However, fans booking corporate hospitality for the England v Bangladesh ICC Champions Trophy game at the Kia Oval on June 1st may know full well that England are favourites to win the tournament, and one of the key reasons for this is the depth and quality of their batting. Having slipped to 229-5, they were able to add 99 more runs as Jonny Bairstow produced another outstanding knock. His unbeaten 72, including three sixes, took England to 328-6. With Adil Rashid providing an innings of crafty improvisation and 39 rapid runs, the total looked a winning one.
However, this time Ireland's batsmen gave England's bowlers the serious work-out they needed. A withering assault by Paul Stirling left David Willey and Mark Wood licking their wounds as his flurry of early boundaries gave Ireland hope. However, after he fell for a rapid 48 from 42 balls, Ireland's challenge gradually subsided and they were eventually all out for 243. Ian Porterfield produced a fine innings of 82, but once again it was spin that did the damage. After struggling against Rashid in Bristol, the visitors restricted him to a single wicket for 68 runs, but Root clinched the man-of-the-match award with his 3-52.
England will certainly face stronger opposition in the next two months, not least when it comes to the ability to play spin, but the two victories have certainly provided a good start to what could be a golden summer.