Josh Little enjoyed a dream ODI debut at Malahide yesterday, taking four wickets in his first five overs as Ireland gave England an almighty scare before succumbing to the World Cup favourites by four wickets.
Defending a modest total of 198 all out, in a game reduced to 45 overs a side, Pembroke left-armer Little tore through the England top order with three wickets, including a snorter of a bouncer to have Eoin Morgan caught behind for a three-ball duck.
Tim Murtagh nipped one past Joe Root's defences for an lbw on 7 and when Kevin O'Brien held the third of three superb catches by the home fielders, England were 66-5 and the Boys in Green were sniffing a major upset.
Ben Foakes, a villain earlier in the piece, staged a revival first with David Willey, who became Little's fourth victim, caught at long leg, and then in a match-deciding partnership of 98 with Surrey team-mate Tom Curran.
Foakes, the game's only half-centurion, would have been lbw to Murtagh on 37, had Ireland reviewed, and Curran was dropped on the cover boundary, before the seventh-wicket pair saw England over the line with four overs to spare. Little finished with 4-45.
"We have to look at that as an opportunity missed," said captain William Porterfield. "We left 25-30 runs out there with the bat and then let it get away a bit at the back end of their innings."
After the start was delayed by a wet outfield, Ireland began well with openers Paul Stirling and Porterfield adding 55 before a mid-order wobble as Lorcan Tucker, O'Brien and Gary Wilson went cheaply.
Nevertheless, a modest total would undoubtedly have been higher but for a cheap trick to dismiss Andy Balbirnie for 29, just as the in-form No 3 was beginning to hit his stride.
Balbirnie attempted to sweep a wide, missed, and watched as wicketkeeper Foakes held the ball to the leg stump. With the batsman's foot firmly planted behind the line there was no chance of a stumping and that phase of play should have been over.
Instead Foakes waited until Balbirnie had turned away and raised his toe, then whipped off the bails. The laws of the game said 'Out' but a fight would have ensued had a club keeper tried the same thing on a weekend afternoon.
Balbirnie's dismissal brought in Mark Adair and Ireland may have found another good one in the strapping 23-year-old all-rounder, who made the most of his late call-up by smashing a couple of sixes in a breezy 32 from 30 balls, then went past the bat several times in a lively opening spell.
Little and Adair's debut performances bode well ahead of tomorrow's clash with the West Indies at Clontarf.