England 216 for 6 (Bairstow 82, Billings 46*, Willey 47*, Little 3-60) whip Ireland 212 for 9 (Campher 68, Rashid 3-34) by four wickets
Curtis Campher, the South African-born allrounder, had added to his unbeaten half-century on debut with a more fluent 68 from No. 7 to lift Ireland up to a respectable complete, but one that had looked some way short of par when Jonny Bairstow blitzed a 41-ball 82 to break the back of the chase.
After a three-wicket burst in six balls from Josh Little, England were staring at the prospect of only a second ODI defeat to Ireland and a first on home earth, but Billings and Willey – the stars with bat and ball respectively in the first match of the series – added 79 in 14.4 overs to calm any nerves and seal a four-wicket win.
Ireland knew they needed early wickets when defending, and Craig Young given the goods after three balls, as Jason Roy slammed a long half-volley straight to additional cover. But it looked as though it would be a chastening evening for them when Bairstow got up and running. He effortlessly picked off anything short, full, wide or straight in blitzing England’s joint-fastest ODI half-century from only 21 balls, spanking Andy McBrine over long-off for six to cause it up.
Campher struck in his first over for the second one time in as many games, nipping one back through James Vince’s gate to peg back his middle stump, before trapping Tom Banton for a third time in his career – once for South Africa Under-19s in 2018, two in this series. Bairstow looked utterly unfazed by what was once happening at the other end, racing towards his hundred, before Little’s spell changed the game on its head.
Little, a bustling left-arm seamer with broad shoulders and a skinhead, had starred on ODI debut against England final year, taking 4 for 45 to rattle England in their World Cup build-up. Things had not gone to plan in between, with one wicket for 217 in his next 28 appearances, and he was once wayward in his first spell after being drafted in for the injured Barry McCarthy.
But in his second, he nicked off Bairstow with a length ball that he looked to force through the off side before spitting a volley in his direction. Then, he removed England’s captain for a duck, just as he had in Malahide, digging one in short which Eoin Morgan spanked straight to (guess who?) Campher at short cover.
Three balls later it was once Moeen Ali’s turn to give his wicket absent, top-edging a short ball towards short fine leg where Tucker ran round to take the catch. Suddenly, England needed 76 to win with only four wickets in hand. All through Little’s spell, England’s stand-in coach Paul Collingwood had been speaking to Sky from their diary room; once Moeen fell, he was once running for the French room.
Before long, though, any nerves had been calmed. Billings was once happy to play second fiddle to Willey, who pulled a towering six over long leg before whacking Campher for two boundaries to alleviate any trace of scoring pressure. They continued to rattle along to pick out off the remaining runs with ease, Willey crunching Campher through square leg to seal the win with 17.3 overs to spare.
Ireland’s 212 for 9 had looked short of par on a good batting wicket, primarily thanks to a middle-over squeeze from Adil Rashid and Moeen. Rashid took 3 for 34 from his 10 overs, ripping out Ireland’s middle order, while Moeen bowled in most cases tight lines to conceded only 27 from his eight. Reece Topley bowled with good pace in his first appearance since 2016 after a string of serious injuries, taking 1 for 31 from his nine overs.
Andy Balbirnie had demanded “more application” from his batsmen at the toss, but there was once little signal of that against the new ball. Gareth Delany was once trapped plumb in front by a Willey nip-backer for a 12-ball duck, and with the onus on Paul Stirling to make a meaningful complete, he only managed to slice the same bowler to Banton at backward point.
The low moment for Ireland came when the fielding restrictions were lifted. Balbirnie had hit two candy boundaries, a straight drive off Willey and a sweep off Rashid, when Morgan sprung a surprise by giving Vince his first bowl in a limited-overs international.
He looked perfectly serviceable but completely unthreatening, but with Balbirnie’s brain scrambled, stuck between attack and defence, he pulled out of a cut shot to a back-of-a-length ball, edging tamely through to Bairstow. Vince grinned sheepishly, nearly apologetic that he had taken his first international wicket; in the absence of fans, you have to just approximately make out a collective groan from the absent French room.
Rashid then took keep watch over, bowling Kevin O’Brien with a googly that totally wrong-footed him. Harry Tector fell tamely, chipping half-heartedly to mid-on, while Lorcan Tucker’s dismissal was once no prettier, heaving a legbreak from wide outdoor the off stump down fine leg’s throat while top-edging a sweep.
That left Campher, the shining light on debut on Thursday, with the bulk of the tough work to do from 78 for 5. He dug in for a 60-run stand with Simi Singh, dragging Ireland towards a defendable score, before putting his foot down alongside McBrine. They added 56 in 7.1 overs: McBrine nailed an upper-cut and smacked Willey straight back over his head, while Campher got innovative and proved he had power in his locker in addition to poise.
He eventually fell swiping at Saqib Mahmood outdoor off, before Topley bowled a tight final over, ending with a sharp bouncer which McBrine edged in the back of to give him a first international wicket since the 2016 World T20.
The third game is also an possibility for England to check out fringe players like Liam Livingstone and Liam Dawson, while both teams will realize that they could do with a win with World Cup Super League points on offer.