Ireland pulled off another remarkable run-chase to stun England in the third one-day international at The Ageas Bowl, with Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie hitting superb centuries in a seven-wicket triumph.
Ireland had only ever beaten England once before in their 12 previous ODI meetings, memorably chasing down 328 to win in the 2011 World Cup. This time they went one run better, reaching their 329-run target in the final over of another thrilling contest to claim a consolation win as they lost the series 2-1.
Kevin O’Brien was the hero nine years ago with a stunning 50-ball century and, while Stirling (142) and skipper Balbirnie (113) were the architects this time, sharing in a 214-run partnership for the second wicket, O’Brien (21no) again played an important part and hit the winning run.
England’s blunted attack did have a couple of chances to dismiss Stirling sooner, with James Vince at fault on both occasions, putting down chances at midwicket with the opener on 95 and then again on 139.
Earlier, Eoin Morgan (106) hit a fine hundred of his own, while Tom Banton (58) struck a maiden ODI 50 sandwiched between too mini-collapses that hampered the hosts.
Having been put into bat, England slipped to 44-3 inside the opening nine overs; there was a second-straight first-over failure for the rusty Jason Roy (1), Jonny Bairstow was bowled by the returning Mark Adair (1-45) and Vince (16) once again got himself in and then got out.
Morgan and Banton corrected things, putting on 146 together in quick time – the England captain particularly impressive in firing 15 boundaries and four huge sixes – before the former’s wicket was the first of four for 26 runs to again derail the innings.
Morgan sliced Josh Little (2-62) to backward point, Banton fell lbw to the offspin of Gareth Delany, Moeen Ali (1) was bounced out by Curtis Campher (2-68) and Sam Billings (19) plinked one to mid-on from Craig Young (3-53), who was the pick of the bowlers.
David Willey (52) helped out with another handy cameo down the order, while Tom Curran (38no) too chipped in to take England up beyond 300, though they’d ultimately be bowled out one ball shy of completing their full 50 overs.
With very little swing on offer in the Ireland reply, England’s attack, and specifically Willey, lacked the threat they posed in taking early wickets in the previous two contests that saw them clinch the series with a game to spare.
Willey (1-70) did dismiss Delany (12) cheaply, bowling him behind his legs as he shuffled across his stumps, but that only served to bring Balbirnie to the crease with Stirling.
Stirling, in typically swashbuckling fashion, smoked six maximums into the stands to go with nine fours, while Balbirnie, somewhat more circumspectly, struck 12 boundaries as they took apart England’s attack.
Vince’s drops apart – the first a difficult chance that flew to his right and the second a skier over his head – England never looked like ending the partnership until a run out finally brought the breakthrough in the 42nd over.
Stirling, backing up a long way down the pitch as Balbirnie smeared one to point, was well short of his ground as Curran relayed the throw onto the stumps.
Even with the wicket, Ireland’s equation appeared simple enough – 63 needed off eight overs – but Adil Rashid (1-61) picked up Balbirnie, caught at long-off, in his final over and suddenly a not-so-simple 44 was required from five, with two new batsmen at the crease.
Thankfully for Ireland, one of those was England’s nemesis from nine years ago, O’Brien who, superbly supported by 20-year-old Harry Tector (29no), saw the visitors to another memorable win.
Watch England’s Test team in action on Wednesday, as they take on Pakistan in the first Test of a three-match series, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 10.30am.