Ireland’s long wait for a home victory over one of the Test match big boys remains tantalisingly out of reach.
They got to within 39 runs of beating Australia five years at Clontarf and the margin was an even closer 23 runs after an absorbing, rain-affected ODI at Stormont on Thursday night.
After Ireland had roared back into contention with the ball to limit the tourists to 222 for six in an innings cut short to 40.2 overs because of rain, William Porterfield’s men gave Australia a mighty fright with the bat.
The captain and Paul Stirling were dismissed inside the first 10 balls of the run chase as the target was eventually adjusted to 181 in 24 overs, but from the perils of seven for two, Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien produced a superb third-wicket partnership that threatened an upset.
The experienced left-handers remain Ireland’s best two batsmen, and in the next 12 overs they added 86 to put Ireland into a great position on 93 for two in the 15th over.
In the end they went within two overs of each other, Joyce first, bowled by Glenn Maxwell after hitting 44 from just 33 balls, and O’Brien, caught at long-on off the same bowler for 45. He had struck five boundaries and faced 53 balls.
With the two set batsmen gone, Australia might have thought Ireland’s challenge was over, but the home side continued to bat fearlessly.
In the 19th over Ireland, at five down, even threatened to seize the initiative once again courtesy of Stuart Thompson. The Eglinton all-rounder launched Maxwell for two sixes in the space of four balls high over long-on and with five overs remaining, the equation was suddenly a not impossible 45 runs.
But the next over proved to be Ireland’s death knell, Gary Wilson and John Mooney going within the space of three balls and when Thompson eventually fell to Mitchell Starc for 24 from just 15 balls, their race had been run.
Ireland were also excellent in the field, recovering from a typically fierce early onslaught from David Warner and Joe Burns. The Australian openers brought up three figures in just 88 balls, before Mooney and in particular Andy McBrine put the brakes on.
Craig Young eventually broke the 139-run stand by dismissing Burns with a short ball, the opener making 69 from just 70 balls on his ODI debut while Warner, 16 runs short of a hundred, hooked the excellent Tim Murtagh (2-45) into the hands of deep square leg.
At one stage Australia lost four wickets for just 31 runs in the space of nine overs, before some hefty blows from Shane Watson took them beyond 200.
O’Brien said he and Joyce had genuine belief during their partnership but felt the Duckworth-Lewis calculation had left Ireland with an uphill task.
He said: “Ed and I believed we were in the hunt. We were needing 10 and 11 an over which was obviously going to be very tough, but we were getting there or thereabouts all the way through. But I think their class told in the end.
“Duckworth-Lewis was a bit stiff on us and I felt we were chasing 10 to 15 more than we should have been.”
Porterfield said: “Nobby and Joycey put us in a great position and Thomo played a lovely little cameo. We were probably another cameo away from winning the game.
“When Thomo had his over against Maxwell, we were probably ahead of the game, but they took a couple of key wickets then and put it out of reach.”