England suffered a shock Twenty20 World Cup defeat in dramatic and controversial circumstances here on Wednesday when rain brought a premature end to their game against Ireland.
When umpires Paul Reiffel and Adrian Holdstock took the players off as the Melbourne rain that had delayed the start returned to the MCG, England still needed 53 runs off 33 balls with five wickets left.
But, crucially, England were five runs behind the DLS par target and in the middle of an over when Moeen Ali had finally found his range, hitting 14 off the first three balls from leg-spinner Gareth Delany. One more ball and another Moeen boundary could have been enough to completely transform this match.
Ireland pulled off a famous win over England at the T20 World Cup to shake up the Super 12s
The players had gone off the field for another rain delay when confirmation of the win came
There was delight among the Irish support at the MCG as they pulled off a famous victory
Yet to complain about England’s misfortune would do a grave injustice to Ireland who were the better team with both bat and ball and thoroughly deserved one of the greatest moments in their cricketing history.
Ireland lost the toss which should have given England a big advantage in a rain threatened contest but Irish captain Andy Balbirnie led his side brilliantly by example against a strangely lacklustre England.
Despite a late collapse as England seemingly clawed their way back into the game, Ireland totalled 157 all out on what turned out to be a tricky MCG pitch and, thrillingly for them, it just proved to be enough.
All the talk beforehand was about how England could put Australia out of their own World Cup with defeat back here on Friday but now that clash has turned out to be a virtual eliminator, with the winner probably taking all and reaching the semi-finals.
A frustrated Alex Hales walks back after being dismissed by Josh Little after making just 7
Ben Stokes was bowled by Fionn Hand as England’s top innings hitters tumbled cheaply
England had insisted they would not take Ireland lightly by resting bowlers ahead of Friday’s match against Australia and they were as good as their word by naming an unchanged side.
It was a good job they did because they would surely have been accused of complacency after this defeat had they rung the changes as Ireland got off to a flying start. As it was England were strangely lethargic in what constituted such an important match.
England were not nearly as sharp in the field as in their opening win against Afghanistan and Balbirnie, in particular, made them pay as Ireland conjured up memories of their greatest moment against England in the 2011 50-over World Cup.
They may have thought they had seen off the biggest danger when the fiery Wood had Paul Stirling caught at third man two balls after Sam Curran had just failed to stop Ireland’s biggest hitter from clearing the boundary.
Josh Little stuck to remove openers Jos Buttler and Alex Hales to put Ireland in control
Little celebrates the wicket of England captain Buttler for a duck as England faltered
But Ireland captain Balbirnie maintained the attack on England and found a willing accomplice in Lorcan Tucker, the pair adding 82 for the second wicket before Tucker was desperately unlucky to be run out by Adil Rashid backing up.
It was a crucial deflection from Rashid, slipping as he got a hand on Balbirnie’s drive, as Ireland had stood at 103 for one in the 12th over and looked poised for a commanding score with England surprisingly ragged.
No bowler epitomised England’s struggles more than Chris Woakes, so impressive against Afghanistan but now smashed for 18 in his second over and 40 off three in all.
Jos Buttler had to turn almost in desperation to the spinning all-sorts of Liam Livingstone as his sixth bowler and to England’s relief it appeared decisive.
Ireland skipper Andrew Balbirnie’s 62 anchored their innings as they posted 158
Adil Rashid dived to fingertip a shot onto the stumps and run out Lorcan Tucker
First Livingstone forced Balbirnie to hole out for an impressive 62 off 47 balls with a leg-break and then he bowled George Dockrell first ball with a quicker off-break that yorked the Irish all-rounder.
That was the start of an Irish collapse that saw them lose their last seven wickets for 25 in 24 balls, Ben Stokes completing what seemed a turnaround and leaving Ireland to waste four balls when he was given the last over and took the final wicket of Josh Little.
But even though Livingstone finished with the best figures of three for 17 the best England bowler was unquestionably Wood, who is in the form of his life.
Wood again bowled consistently in excess of 90 miles per hour, peaking at 95, and posed a considerable physical threat to Ireland, hitting Balbirnie on the finger and both Curtis Campher and Gareth Delany on the head.
Liam Livingstone celebrates with captain Jos Buttler after taking one of his three wickets
Paul Stirling went for 14 as Mark Wood made the vital breakthrough for England
He finished with three for 34 off his four overs and has now taken 14 wickets in five T20 innings since his return from the elbow injury that blighted his summer.
‘I didn’t think I bowled that well today,’ insisted Wood in the innings break. ‘It was a bit wet and greasy and I struggled a little bit. We were a bit disappointed with the performance because for the first 10 overs we were a bit flat and lacked intensity. We gave them too many four balls and weren’t at our best.’
England got off to an even worse start with the bat when Buttler fell to the second ball of the innings driving at Little. And when Alex Hales and then Stokes, bowled by a beauty from Fionn Hand’s first legitimate delivery, quickly followed the upset was very much on with England in big trouble at 29 for three.
Delight for Ireland after Josh Little gets the prize wicket of England opener Jos Buttler
As the covers returned to the field to take the game beyond its cut off time, Ireland were ahead
They rallied through Dawid Malan and Harry Brook, who were both dropped in their stand of 38 as Ireland became nervous, but as more dark clouds gathered Brook fell desperately trying to get England above the DLS par score.
Malan always struggled for fluency and once he went it was left to Moeen to desperately try to get England out of the mire. If the rain had held off for just a few minutes longer or the umpires seen out the over it might have been different.
But the spoils and a significant triumph belonged to Ireland who repeated that famous World Cup victory over England in Bangalore 11 years ago. How they deserved it.
RE-LIVE HOW ALL THE ACTION UNFOLDED WITH ADAM SHERGOLD BELOW