Just one more ball might have done it. England had finally found fluency here at the MCG through Moeen Ali hitting Gareth Delany for 12 off three balls and if play had continued until the end of the 15th over they would probably have beaten Ireland.
But it would have been an injustice. It was Ireland who were better than England with both bat and ball. Ireland who thoroughly deserved this repeat of their win over England in the 2011 50-over World Cup.
Ireland who have thrown this Super 12 group into glorious disarray and condemned England and Australia to a virtual eliminator on Friday.
Ireland recorded a sensational T20 World Cup victory over a lacklustre England in Melbourne
There was delight among the Irish support at the MCG as they pulled off a famous victory
There were those here, too, who have been around long enough to remember rain in Guyana costing Ireland a golden chance of a famous victory over eventual champions England at the start of the 2010 T20 World Cup. Revenge for that one has been a long time coming.
England can have no complaints and, to be fair, Jos Buttler was not complaining afterwards even though it seemed a big call when Australian umpire Paul Reiffel and South African Adrian Holdstock took the players off when they did to hand Ireland victory by just five runs through the DLS method.
England were mystifyingly poor. Everything was in their favour when Buttler won the toss and asked Ireland to bat against an attack that got everything right against Afghanistan in Perth on Saturday. Only this time they got pretty much everything wrong.
The players had gone off the field for another rain delay when confirmation of the win came
As the covers returned to the field to take the game beyond its cut off time, Ireland were ahead
We cannot blame it on complacency because England resisted the temptation to rest Mark Wood and Chris Woakes and chose an unchanged team.
But where they were brilliant in the field in Perth they were lacklustre here. It was as if they couldn’t raise themselves at a near empty MCG against underdogs in the Irish.
Andy Balbirnie and his side took full advantage and, when Ireland stood at 103 for one in the 12th over, Woakes going for 40 off three overs, they looked set for at least 180.
That they were restricted to 157 all out owed everything to an England fightback that saw the last seven wickets fall for 25 in 24 balls, the consistently rapid Wood grabbing three of them and Liam Livingstone turning the tide with three of his own as sixth bowler.
Ireland skipper Andrew Balbirnie’s 62 anchored their innings as they posted 158
Yet still England could not take their chance. Yes, the pitch was maybe a bit more tricky than first appeared even though there was good bounce and carry. But they still should have been able to cope much more comfortably against Ireland’s seamers.
Instead England’s batting raised some serious questions, coming so soon after they lost five wickets in overtaking Afghanistan’s modest 112 in Perth.
Whereas they seemed to have a plethora of big hitting options just a week ago now they have top order uncertainty.
Alex Hales may have made a half century in his first game back in Pakistan and 84 in the opening warm-up against Australia here but since then he has struggled and there must be a question mark against him before the make or break meeting with Australia.
There has to be question marks over opener Alex Hales ahead of the match with Australia
Dawid Malan has returned to taking a few too many balls over his runs for comfort while the biggest issue seems to be Ben Stokes at four.
Yes, he is such an important player and talisman for England that he simply has to play. But should he be in such a pivotal batting position?
Harry Brook will go on to become England’s next great multi-format batsman but twice here he has shown his inexperience and naivety in run chases and made bad decisions. He, too, seems a place too high at five however well he batted there against Pakistan in the build-up to this tournament.
Buttler said afterwards one of his regrets was that Moeen, who faced 12 balls for his unbeaten 24, and Livingstone, who had faced just two balls when the rain came, had not batted for long enough against the Irish.
Moeen Ali was just getting into his stride when rain fell and Ireland’s victory was confirmed
They can be expected to be promoted tomorrow and, however vital Stokes is to the team, he has to go down the order, probably to seven. Or open instead of Hales where he would either come off spectacularly or depart quickly.
As for the bowling, Woakes place must be in jeopardy after this performance while there are concerns over another key figure.
Adil Rashid has been the most important bowler in England’s T20 cricket for some time but he has been well short of his best and this was the seventh time in his last 11 games that the leg-spinner has gone wicketless.
Chris Woakes endured a torrid game and was expensive with the overs he bowled
Suddenly there are so many questions and suddenly, with New Zealand being restricted to a point by the Melbourne monsoon that washed out their game against Afghanistan yesterday, this Super 12 group is wide open.
It is up to England to get on course again by beating Australia in what will be a virtual knockout game here tomorrow in front of a big home crowd. If they don’t they can wave goodbye to their World Cup.