Australia tuned up for the limited-overs leg of their tour of England with a 23-run DLS win over Ireland in Belfast. But while just five of those who played in the Ashes turned out here, the middle-order frailties exposed by England remained apparent as they slipped from 165 for 1 to 190 for 5 in a six-over spell.
The Civil Service North ground is situated within the Stormont estate which has been the seat of power in Northern Ireland for more than a century. Up the hill in Parliament Buildings, the legislative assembly has been convulsed this week by a row with threatens to collapse the government.
More mundane collapses were a concern for both John Bracewell and Darren Lehmann as their sides showed vulnerability against raw pace and seam movement respectively.
On a day when rain forced a late start and three lengthy interruptions, the world champions failed to capitalise on an opening stand of 139 to post just 222 for 6 from 40.2 overs.
Ireland’s young medium-pacer Craig Young was loose early on and his width was repeatedly punished on a soft pitch. With the ball sitting up to be hit, Joe Burns’ introduction to one-day internationals was gentle, with three successive fours helping him to 26 off just the first 13 balls he faced. The Queenslander will face more testing attacks in the coming weeks and months but he looked the part here, flashing some delicious shots through cover and lifting a long hop on to the third umpire’s tent on his way to 69.
“It was good fun”, Burns said afterwards. “It was nice just to get off the mark and then to get a few boundaries away and it started to feel like any other game after a few overs.”
He and David Warner took the score past 100 in just 88 balls and soon had the highest partnership for Australia for any wicket against Ireland. Young returned for a more composed second spell but overstepped when having Burns caught behind and the wicket was rescinded. Happily for Young, whose career with Sussex was halted through injury, he claimed the debutant at little extra cost when the ball started to carry through a bit more.
After ten overs Australia were 80 for 0, but the next two ten-over spells went for just 44 apiece as the rate was hauled down from worrying heights. A key contributor to that parsimony was offspinner Andy McBrine, who had been preferred to George Dockrell. McBrine impressed many with a spell of 10-1-26-0 in the win over against West Indies in the World Cup, but he was promptly dropped then and played only twice more in the competition.
Dockrell, meanwhile, has had a miserable summer in which he has yet to play a single first team game for his county, Somerset, and has now been dropped for an ODI for the first time since his debut in 2010. It would have been Dockrell’s 50th game too, and another Irish fan favourite also missed out on a milestone as Kevin O’Brien’s hamstring prevented him playing his 250th game at all levels, a record for an Irishman in all sports.
Tim Murtagh also returned with a devastating closing spell of four overs, dismissing Man of the Match Warner, for 84, and George Bailey at a cost of just seven runs. Shane Watson, in only his second innings in five weeks, repaired matters and was on 26 off 25 balls when the perennial bane of Irish cricket – rain – visited again and the innings was aborted.
William Porterfield flicked Mitchell Starc’s first ball to the boundary but the fifth yorked the Ireland captain and next over Paul Stirling looked at sea in a four-ball duck.
But Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien have 70 years on the planet and 31 years of international cricket between them and they first steadied the ship and then gave the 3000 or so fans a reason to cheer. Joyce, who scored a century against Australia in January 2007 (albeit in the blue of England), was his usual deft self, placing balls just wide of fielders and pacing his innings to a tee. With Ireland just one big hit off the DLS lead he made room to work away Glenn Maxwell and was bowled for 44. His partnership with O’Brien yielded 86 off 76 balls.
O’Brien, restored to the gauntlets after three years in purgatory, was in exuberant form. He traded quips with the Aussies and fended a Pat Cummins bouncer away with his gloves while accumulating steadily. But he too fell to Maxwell, dancing down the track and lifting him to Burns at long-on.
Stuart Thompson thumped Maxwell for two sixes to leave the equation at 46 off five overs with five wickets standing but Ireland’s finishing has been rusty lately and the lower-middle order succumbed to the pressure as Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile mopped up.