England are on the verge of a first victory of the summer after record-breaking innings by Ollie Pope and Ben Duckett almost saw Ireland defeated inside two days at Lord’s.
Duckett did the early damage and showed exactly why he is perfect for Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ style with a century on his maiden Test appearance on home soil.
The Nottinghamshire opener made it to 150 off the same number of balls to snatch the record for quickest Test 150 at Lord’s off Australian great Don Bradman before his fun was ended on 182 that came at a strike rate of 102.84.
Duckett had shared a 252-run partnership for the second wicket with Pope, who was not at his fluent best initially but freed up after reaching his fourth hundred and subsequently registered the quickest Test double-century in England.
When Pope was stumped after crashing 22 fours and three maximums in his 205 innings from 208 balls, Stokes declared on 524 for four with Ireland needing 352 to make England bat again but more pressingly required to bat through the evening session to force a third day of this one-off Test.
Three wickets for debutant Josh Tongue in a terrific spell threatened the possibility England could wrap up victory inside two days but Harry Tector stood firm to guide Ireland to the close on 97 for three, although opener James McCollum is unlikely to bat again after he retired hurt.
Stokes’ bold declaration was in keeping with England’s desire to go against convention but it does mean himself, Harry Brook and Jonny Bairstow are all short of time at the crease ahead of the Ashes opener on June 16.
Pat Cummins and co will not be as generous at Edgbaston as red-ball novices Ireland have been this week in only their seventh Test, but the emergence of Tongue makes this a worthwhile exercise.
The debutant pinned Peter Moor in front for 11 and bounced out Paul Stirling for 15 during an excellent eight-over spell of three for 27.
Duckett wasted little time moving England ahead of Ireland’s 172 total at the start of day two with a four off his first ball before he raced onto 99 with a cover drive and flick off his pads down to the fine leg boundary in a 35th over that also brought up the hundred partnership between Pope.
The next over produced further milestones with the Nottinghamshire opener able to celebrate a second century for England after he nudged into the leg side for a single to short midwicket.
Duckett held his arms aloft after he made it to a hundred from 106 deliveries following a chanceless innings in his 10th Test, but first on home soil.
Pope had been more frenetic during the first hour, with the occasional play-and-miss married with the odd boundary down to third man that did not always look completely controlled.
England’s number three also survived a review for an lbw against debutant Fionn Hand before lunch to walk off three short of a century, but the session belonged to Duckett, who swept his way into the history books.
Two off Hand ensured Duckett reached 150 off the same amount of balls to set a new quickest 150 in Test cricket at Lord’s, beating Bradman’s previous record off 163 deliveries during the 1930 Ashes.
Duckett picked up where he left off after lunch and crunched 14 from one Andy McBrine over with a slog sweep for the first maximum of the Test and a reverse sweep for four.
Another drive to the boundary saw Duckett move on to 182 and bring up the 250-run partnership but he edged onto his stumps later in the over off Graham Hume.
Pope now picked up the baton. He reached three figures for a fourth time in Test cricket with a single in the second over of the afternoon session – and it settled him down.
A pull and cut away to the boundary was followed by a reverse paddle scoop before Pope hit the first maximums straight over McBrine’s head.
Another drive for four saw Pope celebrate his 150 off 166 balls during a hundred partnership with Joe Root, who made 56 and went beyond 11,000 Test runs but struggled with his timing in a scratchy innings of 59 deliveries.
Pope hit exactly 100 runs in the afternoon session to walk off three short of 200, but he got there when he skipped down the wicket to hit McBrine for six after tea before Stokes’ trademark bold declaration almost forced an early finish.