England beat Ireland by 143 runs in a one-off Test match at Lord’s in 2019. Hugh Chevallier’s review and report originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

Only Test match: England v Ireland at Lord’s, July 24-26, 2019 (day/night)

Toss: England. England won by 143 runs.


Ten days earlier, an Irishman had raised the World Cup to an ecstatic Lord’s. But Eoin Morgan was captain of England, and it felt as if, at least for 2019, that might be as close as Irish cricket came to glory. Not a bit of it. On a scorching July morning, Tim Murtagh – 13 seasons a mucker of Morgan’s at Middlesex – gave an undercooked England a roasting, all out for 85. No one knew this ground like he did; no one had taken a cheaper Test five-for at Lord’s than his 5-13. Though he could not engineer perhaps the biggest Test upset of all, his control was sublime. Not brisk, not brazen, not brash, Murtagh destroyed England – just as Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes did Ireland 48 hours later.

Ireland had every right to be fired up. Unwanted at the World Cup because the ICC preferred to milk the cash cows of Indian and English cricket rather than cultivate the wider 50-over game; up against a weakened team; and given only a four-day Test, they responded in a manner befitting the most eloquent of nations. This was the first Test in England scheduled for fewer than five days since 1949, and only the second, after South Africa v Zimbabwe in December 2017, since the ICC sanctioned a reduced duration – as long as both sides agreed.

Much of the talk beforehand was about which of England’s white-ball heroes would be fit and willing to return to St John’s Wood. Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid opted for rest, while Jofra Archer and Mark Wood were nursing side strains. Happy to play were Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow (Test captain and Test keeper), Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali, whose iffy form had seen him dropped from the second half of the World Cup. Jason Roy, named as an opener in the team of the tournament, joined his Surrey colleague Rory Burns at the top of the order. Might they see off the new ball more effectively than the myriad combinations tried by England since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012? Their other debutant was Olly Stone,capable of 90mph, but worryingly injury-prone. His opportunity arose because Jimmy Anderson had not fully recovered from a torn calf muscle. Jack Leach and Sam Curran were given the chance to reinvigorate fledgling Test careers. Somerset’s Lewis Gregory was also in the squad, but missed out on a Test debut.

Ireland had endured a narrow defeat at home by Pakistan 14 months before, and a heavier one by Afghanistan in India in March 2019. Those Tests were in Malahide and Dehradun, so this was an altogether bigger stage. Intriguingly, though, the Irish had more first-class appearances at Lord’s than England: helped by Murtagh and Paul Stirling being Middlesex regulars, they edged it 93-88. Most of their side had county experience, including debutant seamer Mark Adair who – like the captain, William Porterfield – had turned out for Warwickshire.

The six England players uninvolved in the World Cup had all recently taken part in first-class matches. Not so the Irish, whose red-ball preparation amounted to a two-day game against Middlesex Seconds at Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood; Ireland were unable to bat because of rain. But for much of the Test, it felt as if England were the novices.


What was the world coming to? On the first day, a new prime minister sacked more cabinet ministers than anyone knew could hugger-mugger round a table; on the second, the UK recorded its hottest-ever temperature, 38.7°C (101.7°F), in Cambridge; and on the last, fleetingly, there was a distinct chance that Ireland, in their third Test, would beat England, in their 1,011th. In the event, an absurd match took a different course, and Ireland vaporised for 38, the lowest Test offering at Lord’s, beating 42 by India in 1974. If only climate change and one or two other problems facing the Boris Johnson administration would melt away quite so quickly.

After almost seven weeks of the World Cup, the sight of 13 players clad in white, and a ball clad in red, felt strangely novel. It did not take long for a sold-out Lord’s to get back in the swing. Root opted to bat, despite the pitch having an appropriately emerald tinge, and a Surrey pair strode out. In the second over, Roy was plumb lbw to fellow Test debutant Mark Adair, only to be saved by umpire Palliyaguruge’s shout of no-ball. The reprieve lasted three deliveries. Murtagh, once a Surrey man himself, but long of the St John’s Wood parish, clipped Roy’s bat, and Stirling at first slip didn’t so much catch the ball as sandwich it between his wrists. They all count.

After briefly looking a million dollars, Denly then looked a bit of a chump, falling to the Adair nip-backer. Survival for 28 balls did not give Denly’s uncertain international renaissance the lift it needed. However, set amid the rubble of the England innings, it came to resemble a beacon of permanence, as batsman after batsman tripped over each other in an unedifying rush to and from the Pavilion.

The surface was tricky, to be sure, but this tricky? In 28 deliveries, 36-1 became 43-7. If the pitch was not perfect, Murtagh was. Not Glenn McGrath’s match for height or pace, he was his equal for accuracy. He hit a precise, fullish length on off, moved it both ways at about 77mph, and never allowed the batsmen to settle. So when Bairstow was distracted by something and backed away with Murtagh mid-delivery, it was inevitable that the ball clipped the off bail. None of the England line-up knew how to cope, playing round their pads or with hard hands. Bairstow resorted to standing so far outside his crease the umpires intervened, telling him he was in danger of damaging the protected area, as prohibited by Law 41. Not that he hung around long enough: Murtagh bowled him through the gate for a six-ball duck. After 78 minutes, he had a five-for.

The introduction of Thompson let the tension slip, before Rankin, against the team he had played for at Sydney in 2013/14, helped administer the last rites. England were bowled out for 85 in 23.4 overs, their shortest Test innings at home. There can have been few more ignominious falls from grace: world champions one week, humbled by neophytes the next. Despite Ireland’s over-rate being as execrable as England’s batting, the bloodbath was complete before the end of an extended first session: as part of the revised playing hours of a four-day Test, lunch was at 1.15 and tea 4.10.

The Ireland openers saw out 12 anodyne overs before Porterfield flapped Curran’s first ball, an arrant half-tracker, to midwicket. Six overs later, McCollum dragged on, but his colleagues took advantage of two drops, both off Broad. Bairstow, who had spent the World Cup haring round the boundary, seemed to forget his station behind the stumps, and watched an edge from Balbirnie, on 10, sail past for four; soon afterwards, Root was culpable, spilling a low but catchable chance at first slip when Stirling had 17. Until now, Woakes’s Test record at Lord’s had been exceptional: 18 wickets at 10, plus 261 runs at 130. But he followed a silver duck with a spell of utter ordinariness. Leach was distinctly worse, bowling full toss after full toss in his first home Test, though his unexpected moment in an unpredictable game would come.

At tea, the score was 127-2, and England were facing a long evening. But once again wickets started to tumble. Stirling had the worse of a tight lbw call – Broad wisely removing fielders from the equation – and Balbirnie his middle stump uprooted by an 89mph inswinger from Stone, who quickly accounted for Wilson with a vicious ball he deflected to slip. Once Thompson had foolishly shouldered arms to Broad, and Adair edged Curran into his stumps, Ireland were 149-7; five had gone for 17, and a sweet day was turning a little sour. But O’Brien was still there, and with the tail he kept runs coming. Murtagh was particularly frisky, and four unorthodox cross-bat thwacks brought 16, three more than he had conceded in nine overs. As strains of the Blarney Army singing “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o!” rang around Lord’s, Rankin missed a heave at Ali, and the day’s 20th wicket was the first (and last) for spin. Not since 1912, when South Africa lost at The Oval, had so many fallen on the first day of a Test in the UK. Ireland led by 122.

England had endured an absolute stinker and, with an over to face, there was scope for it to get worse. Unwilling to expose Roy, they sent in Leach, ten places higher than his natural home. Since last reaching double figures, in Sri Lanka in November 2018, he had totted up 56 runs in 19 innings at an average below four. (It was only the second time, after Harry Butt for England against South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 1895/96, that anyone had batted at No. 11 and No. 1 on the same day in a Test.) Against the odds, Leach survived Murtagh’s over. Next morning, Burns departed for a twitchy six, just as he had the day before. The sun beat down, the mercury rose, the crowd broiled; life melted from the pitch. Leach and Roy grew into their partnership, the nightwatchman standing taller with every boundary. And there were quite a few: straight-drives, caresses through cover – and the occasional miscue.

Leach had an unusual problem. Because he batted in glasses, he struggled to stop them steaming up once his headband had become drenched with sweat. But on he went: by lunch England had wiped out the deficit; soon after came the century stand. Leach outlasted Roy, who did a Denly: for every shot that brought an argh, there were three or four that brought an ahh. He seemed destined for a maiden century after twice being dropped, on 72 and 92. But three balls after the second life, Adair did cling on, and the dream lay shattered. Leach had at least increased his first-class career-best from the 66 he made against Lancashire in 2018.

England hadn’t collapsed for, oh, well over a session, so one was overdue. Root helped out, thinking better of a single and selling Denly down the river, before Bairstow, all at sea, failed to overturn an lbw call that had him sinking to his first Test pair, and his fifth duck in seven Test innings at home. In heat that peaked in London at over 35°C, the Irish bowlers were industry personified. England’s decline from 171-1 to 248-8, though not their most precipitous, was alarming, given the lead stood at 126. Then Curran, reprising his lower-order heroics from 2018, crashed 37 from 29 balls. England were 303-9 when an electrical storm scurried the players from the field; the first two innings had been completed on the opening day, and the third spanned three. Just.

First ball next morning, Thompson ran in, and Stone’s leg stump cartwheeled towards the Nursery Ground. That inswinger delivered a warning: batsmen beware! England had never successfully defended a target as low as 182 at Lord’s, yet the atmospherics – dreich skies, mugginess, occasional mizzle – suggested they might make a fist of it. And how.

The players had trooped on and off after just one ball, then rain interrupted Ireland’s innings after seven. Following the resumption, they made it to a streaky, creaky 11 before Woakes broke through, Porterfield the victim. As abject as England were on day one, they were adroit on day three. Behind the stumps, Bairstow swapped cumbersome for lissom, while in front Broad and Woakes allied a perfect length with constant movement – in the air and off the seam. No batsman stayed long enough to develop an innings, and Ireland hurtled not to the triumph that had seemed so possible the previous evening, but to humiliation. Their heart, their hard work, their courage deserved better. In the end, Woakes took a career-best 6-17 and Broad 4-19, as Ireland were poleaxed for 38. After the cheapest Lord’s five-for came the cheapest six-for.

Oddities abounded: for the first time, both keepers got pairs; for the first time in 132 years, both teams were dismissed in a session; only once in 2,352 Tests had an innings lasted fewer than Ireland’s 94 balls, when South Africa were filleted in 75 at Edgbaston in 1924; in eight innings, Nos.6 and 7 collected 13 runs – a record low that included six ducks. Summing it up was the fact that the match award went to a No.11 for his batting at the top of the order.

Player of the Match: MJ Leach. Attendance: 77,162.