By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Ireland moved tantalisingly within sight of an historic test win over England as they reduced the hosts to 303-9 in their second innings to trail by 181 at a sweltering Lord’s on Thursday.
For the second day running, William Porterfield’s modest team made a mockery of reputations to give World Cup champions England a torrid time at the home of cricket.
There was no repeat of Wednesday’s mayhem when Ireland marked their first test match at Lord’s, and only their third ever, by skittling England for 85 before being dismissed for 207.
Indeed when nightwatchman Jack Leach, who fell eight runs short of his century, and Jason Roy took England to 171 for one in blast furnace heat, having begun it 122 runs behind, it appeared the fun was over for the upstarts.
Ireland’s tenacious attack of Tim Murtagh, Mark Adair, Boyd Rankin and Stuart Thompson plugged away, however, and were rewarded as England collapsed for the second day running in a match supposed to be a loosener for next week’s Ashes opener.
Seven wickets fell for 77 runs to leave England teetering on the brink at 248-8 — a mere 126 ahead — before Sam Curran (37) and Stuart Broad (21 not out) counter-attacked.
Friday promises to be an intriguing finale with Ireland likely to be set a modest, but nervy, victory target.
Should they pull off one of the biggest test shocks ever, it would rival their 2011 World Cup win over England and fully vindicate them being given test status in 2017.
They still have a lot of work to do though.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance,” England’s Leach said. “We believe we can definitely win the game. The wicket is still doing bits. We’ve got to make the most of that tomorrow.”
Leach, in the side predominantly for his left-arm spin, showed the specialist batsmen what was possible, playing like a seasoned opener, not a man without a first class century.
After opener Rory Burns (6) nicked one behind off Rankin, the first cricketer since the Nawab of Pataudi in 1946 to both play for and against England in a test match, Leach dug in.
Watchful when needed on a pitch still offering encouragement for the bowlers, Leach punished any bad balls.
He struck three boundaries off one wayward Rankin over to take England’s score past 50 — a mark they staggered past on Wednesday for the loss of seven wickets.
With test debutant Roy showing his one-day panache at the other end, the game was slipping out of Ireland’s control as England established parity at 122-1 by lunch.
Roy got off the mark by slapping a boundary back past Adair and then a couple of balls later he leathered a sweet cover drive that flashed to the boundary.
He also launched spinner Andy McBrine over long-on for six and his 50 came up in 47 balls.
Leach was put down on 72 off a thick outside edge before Roy, who looked set for his debut test century, tried to clobber a Thompson inswinger and lost his middle stump.
Leach was spared when Adair fumbled a routine slip catch but three balls later he edged Murtagh, Wednesday’s five-wicket hero, and this time Adair pouched it.
It slammed the brakes on England’s advance and Joe Denly was run out for 10 after a dreadful mix-up with Root.
Jonny Bairstow was tapped lbw by Adair in the next over for his second duck of the match as England reached tea on 209-5 — a precarious lead of 87.
Ireland then turned the screws. Moeen Ali (9) feathered a short ball from Rankin behind to Gary Wilson then Root played airily to an Adair ball outside off stump, slicing a diving Wilson.
When Chris Woakes was eighth man out after falling to Adair for 13, caught by Andy Balbirnie at second slip, Irish eyes were widening with excitement as they trailed the hosts by only 126 runs.
Porterfield almost produced a sensational catch at mid-wicket but Curran survived to lead an England counter-attack that could yet prove decisive — striking four boundaries and two sixes in a 29-ball 37 splicing a high catch to James McCollum.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)