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Ireland: International Tournaments
1996 British Isles Championship
South Wales

Ireland v Wales (Ian Callender)

IN THE LAND of song it was Ireland who were celebrating their first victory of the season as their Triple Crown campaign got off to the perfect start. After nine games without a glimmer of success, the first important match of the season really could not have gone any better. Set 200 to win, Ireland had five wickets and more than eight overs to spare against the Welsh as Angus Dunlop, Justin Benson and, almost inevitably, Decker Curry came good.

The Limavady all-rounder, playing his first Irish match for 14 months and opening for only the third time, scored 60 off 55 balls with 10 fours and two sixes in an innings of mature responsibility which has lain dormant on the international arena far too long. Just for good measure, he was also the only Irish bowler to take two wickets as Wales, on an excellent batting strip, were restricted to 199 for eight. When Curry was out in the 21st over, skipper Benson immediately looked more comfortable at No 5 than he had done as opener, and Dunlop raced to his third successive victory against Wales this season off 37 balls with his boundary count of three sixes and five fours almost leaving Decker in the shade.

Ireland's perfect day started with Benson winning a toss which was not so crucial as it appeared at the time. The rain, due to arrive in early afternoon, never materialised, and allowed Ireland to ram home their superiority for the full duration of an increasingly one-sided match. Stefan Jenkins, the scourge of the Irish in the three-day game at Rathmines, was promoted to open the batting, and was again top scorer, but at a pace which suited Ireland. His 58 occupied 128 balls and in his 49-overs stay he hit only four boundaries. Curry, the fourth off-spinner used by Benson, finally had him caught at deep square leg, and when he trapped Jamie Sylvester in front in his next over, proved once again what a useful bowler he is at this level. Only Derek Heasley, preferred as the third seamer on the slow pitch to Ryan Eagleson, was short of his best form and, in hindsight, the experience of Paul McCrum, who bowled another splendid opening spell, may have been a better bet in the final two overs, which went for 18.

But anything under 200 was always a comfortable target for this formidable Ireland batting line-up. Curry announced his intentions by hitting the first three balls of the fourth over for four and, always under control, his hitting became more restrained and selective. His first six was pulled to wide long-on and his second almost immediately after reaching his first 50 for Ireland, in 35 balls, was the shot of the innings, landing in a garden over long-off. Tamed by the introduction of spin at both ends, he holed out to long-on to leave Ireland 84 for three- a job well done.

Perhaps over-awed by batting with Curry for the first time, Kyle McCallan played the least convincing of his six innings for Ireland, taking 41 balls over his five scoring strokes, and Neil Doak never got out of his crease in his too brief stay. Andy Patterson, however, looked very relaxed at No 4, against justifying his place as a specialist batsman, until he played one fateful pull and was caught at mid-wicket. His partnership with Benson put on 52 in 10 overs, but that was overshadowed by the arrival of Dunlop. Where the captain's innings was full of deft flicks and clever footwork, Dunlop batted with the confidence of someone who had scored two 90s against this opposition just four weeks earlier. His second scoring stroke was a four and the sixth was, according to the local scorer, the biggest six seen at this ground. He took 18 off an over from Ben Morgan-even Curry's best was only 13-and was powering Ireland to victory so quickly that Heasley had to play a maiden to allow Dunlop to finish the match.

Ireland v Scotland (Ian Callender)

YNYSYGERWYN ENTERED THE list of never-to-be-forgotten venues as Ireland crashed back to reality on day two of the Triple Crown tournament in Swansea. In a game reduced to 40 overs by a morning downpour, Ireland charged 245 for six but then watched with increasing desperation as Scotland replied with 198 for the first wickets. In an impressive comeback spell Ryan Eagleson took three wickets in 14 balls but the Scots still won, easing up by seven wickets with exactly three overs to spare.

After the euphoria of the first day win against Wales and another excellent batting display when inserted, the bowling was woefully disappointing. Justin Benson again used seven bowlers, including himself, because Neil Doak was unable to field after injuring his toe when batting. With Kyle McCallan left out because of a calf injury, sustained on Wednesday, the bowling options were restricted by certainly more than capable of defending such a challenging total. The Road End boundary was only 40 yards away and throughout the day was frequently peppered by hits, big and not so big, accounting for the large totals. Four times Irish batsmen failed to reach the boundaries and perished. Scotland failed three times but two vital chances were put down making their job so much more difficult. Even then the bowling just wasn't good enough to trouble such an experienced batsman as Iain Phillip and his latest partner, Bryn Lockie. Philip made 121-not his first century against Ireland and, on this form, it will not be this last-off 91 balls with three sixes and 13 fours. Lockie, not so confident but just as disciplined, scored 70 off 101 balls with six fours.

Each offered a chance either side of their half century. First, Philip's cut to the backward point boundary was badly misjudged by substitute Declan Moore and the ball before his 50 Lockie gave a straightforward return catch to Decker Curry. Decker would normally be pushed to remember dropping two catches in a season; he had now put down two in as many days. Eagleson's second spell, when he took three for 12, was an oasis of sanity in 37 overs of hardship. Mark Patterson, so consistent all season, started badly and never recovered and the other bowlers, without exception, must look back in horror at a day to forget. Yet, at halfway, there was an air of expectancy and enthusiasm for the job ahead. The batsmen's only fault was that all bar one got in and none reached 50 but such was the consistency throughout the order that when a wicket fell his successor immediately picked up the tempo. Curry was out in the fourth over, driving lazily to mid-on, but Andy Patterson proved an inspired replacement for McCallan at the top of the order. One memorable drive through the covers, on the up, was a contender for shot of the day and it was another extravagant extra cover drive, attempting his sixth boundary which was his downfall.

Benson hit 34 off 27 balls and Angus Dunlop took a liking to Mike Allingham's bowling from the short boundary and struck him for 24 in one over, including three sixes in four balls. Doak was the backbone to the innings following the dismissal of Andy Patterson and Derek Heasley carried on the big hitting in this well balanced line-up. His 45 off 40 balls included three sixes and three fours. Even Garfield Harrison was joining in the fun at the end and following a thumping swot through the covers the umpire had to intervene to stop a heated conversation with 17 year old opening bowler John Blain. But it was Scotland who had the last word and Ireland's only consolation was that victory over England would still give them the Triple Crown on run rate.

England v Ireland (Ian Callender)

THE TRIPLE CROWN came to Ireland for the first time after a stylish seven wickets destruction of England NCA in Pontarddulais. Long before Wales beat Scotland in the final match, Ireland's superior run rate ensured the long celebration would be even longer. In a stirring comeback following the nightmarish overs the previous evening, Ireland dismissed the tournament favourites for 152 in 45 overs and then whipped off the runs in barely 30.

Again, there was only one failure with the bat-Angus Dunlop this time- as Andy Patterson, opening again in an unchanged side, outscored Decker Curry in a thrilling first team to victory. A no-ball denied him the winning hit but two hours later no-one could hold him back as he proudly collected the trophy so cruelly snatched from Ireland's grasp in the inaugural tournament three years ago. For the third successive day seven bowlers were used but unlike the wayward fare served up to Scotland this was high quality penetrating bowling backed by top class wicket keeping. The difference was the opening spells by Mark Patterson and Paul McCrum. Each took a wicket in his first over to reduce England to seven for two and Patterson followed up with two off successive balls in his fifth, including David Clarke, the top scorer at Comber last season and again against the Pakistanis the previous week. Clarke was brilliantly caught, low to his right, by Alan Rutherford, the second of five catches which capped a faultless performance behind the stumps. Patterson's only spell of six overs earned him the man of the match trophy but it was McCrum who took the prize scalp of England captain Malcolm Roberts with his third ball.

After that Ireland were on top and they never relinquished their superiority. Garfield Harrison and Neil Doak both came back well from a nervous start to share four wickets and their control encouraged Benson to introduce Curry for the 42nd over in preference to either Patterson or Ryan Eagleson, each with four overs unbowled. As David Snellgrove was in hospital with a broken finger, from a delivery by Derek Heasley, Ireland needed to take only nine wickets to end the innings.

Already reduced to eleven fit players, coach Chris Old, the former England and Yorkshire pace bowler, acted as substitute fielder. Even his know-how could not prevent another explosive start to the Irish innings but it was not Curry who provided it. Batting in a helmet for the first time this week, Decker's singles outnumbered his boundaries as the blossoming Andy Patterson took centre stage. At the end of the 10th over he had scored 40 out of 61 with shots to all parts of the ground including a superbly timed six over square leg. He faced only 46 balls for his 41 and was then yorked by Ben Usher off the first ball of his second spell. Curry, who also hit a six over mid-wicket, followed four overs later, caught behind down the leg side off the left arm spinner but 120 runs in three innings fully justified his recall. Benson also came good when it mattered and, fittingly, he was there at the end to claim the famous victory.