David Willey and Sam Billings fired in their comeback ODIs as England razed Ireland for 172 and then dealt with a top-order wobble to record a thumping six-wicket win in the series opener at The Ageas Bowl.
All-rounder Willey was the unfortunate fall guy last summer, dropping out of England’s World Cup squad to accommodate the newly-qualified Jofra Archer, and had not played for his country since, while Billings’ previous ODI appearance had come against Australia in July 2018.
But both grabbed chances afforded to them by either absences due to Test commitments or injury, with Willey (5-30) taking four wickets inside his first four overs and reducing Ireland to 28-5 en route to a maiden five-for.
Billings – only playing because of Kent colleague Joe Denly picking up a niggle in training – then cracked a 41-ball fifty and his highest ODI score of 67 not out as England recovered from 78-4 to reach their target with 22 overs and one ball to spare after Eoin Morgan’s match-winning six.
Ireland batsman Curtis Campher (59no), who survived a hat-trick ball from Willey, impressed on debut but his efforts looked likely to be in vain with England sill possessing a power-packed batting unit despite Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jos Buttler being absent.
Ireland, though, did manage four wickets inside 14 overs with World Cup-winning opening combination Jason Roy (24) and Jonny Bairstow (2) and local lad James Vince (25) – who had played beautifully all around the wicket before edging behind on the drive – among those to fall.
That left Billings to boss an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 96 with captain Morgan (36no) as England eased to victory in their first ODI on home soil since winning the World Cup last July and the first match of the World Cup Super League, which has begun qualification for the 2023 World Cup.
Willey – so close to appearing in the previous World Cup – struck in his first and second overs after England elected to bowl, setting him on the way to beat his previous best figures of 4-34, which he had managed against Sri Lanka in Cardiff in 2016.
Paul Stirling (2) clipped to Morgan at short midwicket after he was too early into a shot, while Ireland skipper Andrew Balbirnie (3) snicked behind to Jonny Bairstow after chasing a ball that angled across him.
Willey went wicketless in his third over but picked up back-to-back scalps in his fourth, with Gary Delany (22) slashing to backward point and Lorcan Tucker (0) out lbw on review – with Saqib Mahmood also forcing debutant Harry Tector (0) to chop on, Ireland had lost three for none from 28-2.
Tector’s maiden ODI innings lasted just nine deliveries but fellow newbie Campher fared much better, facing 118 deliveries in his unbeaten half-century and passing fifty from his 103rd ball – Campher becoming the third Ireland player, after Morgan and Andre Botha, to hit a fifty on debut.
The South Africa-born batsman shared half-century stands with the experienced Kevin O’Brien (22) and Andy McBrine (40) as Ireland recovered from their dreadful start.
Campher put on 51 with O’Brien for the sixth wicket and then 66 with McBrine for the eighth, after O’Brien had lofted Adil Rashid to Willey at long-off and Simi Singh (0) was run out without scoring.
Campher was left stranded when Willey had last man Craig Young (11) caught by Roy at mid-off- but the Ireland star was not done for the day, as he also bagged the wicket of Tom Banton (11) with his fourth delivery.
Banton top-edged Campher behind on the pull as Ireland made another key breakthrough, having earlier seen Bairstow and Roy fall lbw to McBrine and Young respectively and Vince then clip Young behind.
Billings and Morgan ensured there would be no more wickets, though, with Billings’ third ODI fifty featuring powerful cuts and pulls as well as some superb reverse-sweeps – the Kent man trumping the 62 he notched against Bangladesh in 2016 as England won at a canter and took 10 points in the World Cup Super League.
Ireland were hamstrung by an injury to seamer Barry McCarthy, who left the field five balls into the opening over of England’s innings.
Watch the second ODI between England and Ireland live on Sky Sports Cricket from 1.30pm on Saturday.