England v Ireland, 1st ODI, Bristol May 4, 2017

History beckons as Ireland seek another scalp

The Preview by Andrew Miller

Match facts


May 5, 2017
Start time 1100 local (1000 GMT)

England's quest for a one-day trophy this summer begins against Ireland in Bristol © Getty Images

Big picture

A decade has already elapsed since Ireland's stunning awakening at the 2007 World Cup. Their elimination of Pakistan, and qualification for the competition's Super Eights, counts among the greatest upsets in sporting history, while their encore against England at Bangalore four years later was arguably an even more complete team performance.

And now, some 11 years since their accession to full ODI status, an occasion that was marked by an inaugural encounter with England at Belfast in 2006, they have finally been invited over for a reciprocal tour.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the fact that this weekend's twin ODIs against England at Bristol and Lord's are a cause for celebration, it does make you wonder why Ireland's nearest neighbours have taken quite this long to wake up to the fact of their existence.

There have been fundamental points of political difference over the years - perhaps best exemplified by the heritage of England's current captain, Eoin Morgan, not to mention other current Ireland players who have just happened to make their England debuts against the country of their birth down the years (oh, okay then, Ed Joyce in 2006, and the absent Boyd Rankin seven years later).

Instead, rather than risk a dilution of their own status and support, previous ECB regimes have chosen to treat Ireland as a feeder nation, and cherry-pick the best of their assets, when a more enlightened set of leaders might have nurtured their ambitions for the greater good of the sport.

But all of that is in the past now. The curtain-raiser to the English season in Bristol is a special occasion that stands as testimony to Ireland's determination to be seen as equals, both in terms of their professional attitude at boardroom level and their reputation for over-achievement on the field of play.

That said, these two matches couldn't really have come at a more awkward juncture for a team undergoing a painful first transition. Most of the players who carried them to this level are on the wane or already retired, while the new generation has not yet bedded in at the levels now expected of one of the flagship Associate nations.

In addition, they are about to go toe to toe with an England outfit that has never treated white-ball cricket with such seriousness, bordering on reverence. The 2019 World Cup is the ultimate goal for Morgan's men, but next month's Champions Trophy is a vital staging post and a very real opportunity to secure that elusive maiden 50-over global title.

Even in the absence of several first-choice players, England will expect to win both games at a canter - not through the habitual arrogance that has tended to creep into such fixtures in the past, but through the necessity of living up to their tag as Champions Trophy favourites. It's a situation that Ireland might well savour - the lower the expectations, the higher the incentive to land that giant-killing blow. But England are an impressive 50-over team with a serious game-face right now. Defeat in either of these contests would be a shock to rival any that Ireland have amassed down the years.

Form guide

England WWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Ireland LWWLL

In the spotlight

The bench-strength of England's batting is among the biggest reasons why they are being touted as Champions Trophy favourites, with a host of players competing for a limited number of berths, and disappointment inevitable for an unlucky few. And to read the runes of England's squad announcement, Jonny Bairstow has more ground to make up than many, with Sam Billings earmarked to keep wicket in the absence of Jos Buttler, in spite of Bairstow's solidity as the Test No.1. If that development has made him a bit grumpy, maybe it's a tactic that will pay off. A blistering innings of 174 from 113 balls for Yorkshire against Durham on Wednesday was a timely reminder of his talents, to say the least.

Tim Murtaghhas not been a fixture for Middlesex in their Royal London campaign to date, but his intimate knowledge of, and skill in, English conditions will be an invaluable asset, both with the new ball and as a mentor to an otherwise young Irish attack. At the age of 35, he's as long in the tooth as many of the veterans who remain from the earliest days of Ireland's ODI status, but having qualified for the country through his grandparents in 2012, he has plugged a vital gap in their ranks, following the retirement of Trent Johnston, and the absence of Rankin, initially with England and latterly with injury.

Team news

With Buttler, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes missing from these matches due to their IPL commitments, there is a limited opportunity for the selectors to experiment, with Billings and Bairstow the obvious beneficiaries in the middle order. However, it has been Eoin Morgan's stated policy since the turn of the year to pick the side that is as close as possible to his Champions Trophy starting XI, so it would be a surprise to see many liberties taken in the line-up. The absence of a seam-bowling allrounder may tempt them to go in with one spinner, especially as a host of their quicks are on the comeback trail and need game-time, but the top four is set in stone.

England: (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Sam Billings, 7 Moeen Ali/Adil Rashid, 8 David Willey, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Jake Ball, 11 Mark Wood

Kevin O'Brien's return from a hamstring injury is a welcome boost for an Ireland team who will need their veterans to rise to one of their biggest occasions in recent times. That said, his brother, Niall, could conceivably give way to Andy Bilbirnie, with Gary Wilson taking the gloves. Murtagh will lead the line with his intelligent swing bowling.

Ireland: (probable) 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Ed Joyce, 4 Gary Wilson, 5 Niall O'Brien (wk), 6 Kevin O'Brien, 7 Stuart Thompson, 8 George Dockrell, 9 Tim Murtagh, 10 Barry McCarthy, 11 Craig Young

Pitch and conditions

Morgan felt that the pitch had a touch less grass on it than he might otherwise have imagined but, with the weather set to be overcast, England's most full-throttle batting may not come immediately to the fore.

Stats and trivia

  • Bristol is set to host its 14th ODI, and 16th international fixture all told, following two T20Is in 2006 and 2011.

  • Of those, England have featured in 10 of the last 11 ODIs, dating back to 2001, but their record is inauspicious. The last of their three victories came against West Indies in 2009. The following year they lost to Bangladesh for the first time in their history.

  • England's last two fixtures at Bristol have failed to be completed. The match against India was abandoned in 2014, while there was no result against Sri Lanka last year.

Quotes

'We're not at the level we were. We've been hit by four or five big retirements and that's made life very difficult for us.'
Ireland batsman Ed Joyce admits his team faces a tough challenge in the coming days

'No, that's very cheeky. No chance, no chance.'
Eoin Morgan shoots down a suggestion that he might follow the lead of other former English Irishmen, and re-qualify for the country of his birth when his England days are over

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket