The 2001 Women’s European Cricket Championship was the sixth edition of the tournament. England had dominated it since the first edition in 1989, winning each of the first five titles. With a view to expose young players to ODI cricket, England named a squad comprising only players aged under 19 as they set out to defend their title in the four-team tourney played at Bradfield College in Reading from 10th to 12th August.
Denmark, who had played every edition thus far, did not send a team this time, while Scotland entered for the first time to make their ODI debut. The tournament featured a round robin stage, and with England and Ireland both making short work of Scotland and the Netherlands in their first two games (England bowled Scotland out for just 24 in the opening fixture), their last-round clash on 12th August was a de facto final.
England were led by Arran Brindle (nee Thompson), while Ireland had Nikki Squire at the helm. History was against the Irishwomen – prior to this encounter, Ireland had failed to get the better of England in 14 ODI meetings dating back to the 1988 World Cup in Australia. Even though England were bereft of their senior players, their talented youngsters had given enough glimpses of their ability in the first two matches.
Rain reduced the contest to a 35-over affair, making the conditions conducive for bowling from the outset. Opener Caitriona Beggs dropped anchor after Ireland were inserted, even as seamers Isa Guha, who at 16 was the youngest member of the squad, and Laura Spragg bowled with discipline to reduce the score to 49/3. Beggs and wicketkeeper Anne Linehan steadied the ship by adding a valuable 44 for the fourth wicket.
Leg-spinner Sarah Clarke broke the stand by bowling Beggs for a resolute 78-ball 35, which was quickly followed by the run-outs of Squire and Linehan (27). The innings subsided thereafter, closing at 116 a ball into the final over with the last seven wickets falling for only 23 runs. Clarke dented the lower order to finish with figures of 4/15. If Ireland were to achieve a historic win, the onus now lay on their bowling attack.
Barbara McDonald and Isobel Joyce shared the new ball for Ireland. While McDonald kept things tight, Joyce, who was one of the stars of Ireland’s Test win against Pakistan the previous year, provided the first breakthrough by removing Thompson with the score at 13. Thompson’s opening partner Kate Oakenfold struggled, managing only two runs in 38 balls before falling LBW to off-spinner Miriam Grealey to make it 34/2.
Beggs ran out Spragg five runs later, but number three Laura Harper was settling in well. With the score at 48/3, all-rounder Saibh Young (3/5) unleashed her medium pace to turn the game around. Harper was dismissed for 23, before Ebony Rainford-Brent and Clarke were both castled off the next two balls. The 33-year-old Young, playing in what would be her final ODI, thus became only the fifth woman to take an ODI hat-trick.
With the score still 48, Grealey added another leg-before victim in the form of wicketkeeper Laura Joyce. England had lost four wickets without adding a run, putting Ireland on the cusp of a maiden European title. It did not take long, as Lara Mollins grabbed the final two wickets to condemn England to a total of just 60 in 27 overs. This was England’s lowest ODI total until 2005-06, when they were bowled out for 50 by India.
With this 56-run triumph, Ireland tasted an ODI win for the 20th time in 63 matches, and for the first time against a team other than Denmark, the Netherlands, Pakistan, or Scotland. It remains their only win against England in 17 ODIs. It was also the first major international success for Ireland against England across genders – the Irish men’s team recorded their first win over England a decade later at the 2011 World Cup.
The 2001 edition of the Women’s European Cricket Championship was the last to feature matches with ODI status. Since then, Ireland have won the tournament twice (England did not take part on either occasion), at home in 2009 and in England in 2014 (the latest edition). Ireland’s other notable scalps in women’s ODIs have been the West Indies at Amstelveen in 2003 and more recently, South Africa at Dublin in 2016.