Paul Stirling was the toast of Ireland at Grace Road last night but his supreme batting effort proved in vain as Leicestershire swept to a high scoring, seven wicket success in the Friends Provident Trophy.
The outrageously talented 18- year-old Belfast High schoolboy scored 80 from 82 balls but despite setting Leicestershire a run rate of 6.3 overs in a game reduced to 31 overs, the county chalked up their first win of the season with a full two overs to spare.
With Kevin O’Brien finishing 67 not out and John Mooney, promoted to No 6, boosting the Ireland total with 19 from 17 balls at the end, Ireland should have had more than enough to see them home. But a bowling attack minus Alex Cusack, left at home despite wanting to play this weekend, and the injured Trent Johnston and Andre Botha was found wanting.
National coach Phil Simmons will point out that if his first choice bowlers, Peter Connell, Regan West and Kyle McCallan had bowled anywhere near their potential then it should still have been strong enough to defend such a formidable total.
But with Connell going at nine runs an over and Ireland’s two slow bowlers conceding 58 in their 10 overs, Leicestershire found it all too easy.
South African Hylton Ackerman was again the scourge of the Irish. Last year he scored 103 and 54 in the county’s two FPT victories and yesterday he bettered both those to finish 118 not out from just 87 balls.
The most economical bowler was Kevin O’Brien but he was given only four of a possible seven overs.
The bowling was in stark contrast to the Ireland batting which yielded their best scoring rate in any 50 overs game against a county. It was almost entirely due to a fourth wicket stand of 110 in just 15 overs between Stirling and O’Brien, two extreme talents who have come through the ranks.
O’Brien has done it before — this was his seventh score of 50 or more in his last 17 innings — but even the big-hitting Dubliner was upstaged here by the force of the Stirling bat.
Paul’s superb timing was the feature of his fourth half century for Ireland and by 10 runs his best. He hit only two sixes, compared to the four he managed against Northants last year but he still scores at such an impressive pace that he surely must be named in Ireland‘s World Twenty20 squad today.
Eoin Morgan may have been snapped up by England but Ireland have a ready-made No 3 for years to come.
The desperately poor second half to the day may have condemned Stirling’s innings to defeat but the start, delayed by three hours because of rain, wasn’t too clever either.
James Hall, 20, replacing Gary Wilson who was summonsed to play for Surrey — he scored 34 against Yorkshire — failed to survive the first over, Jeremy Bray was too slow out of the blocks and was run out after a run-a-ball 14 and Andrew Poynter played his third ball onto the stumps.
Both yesterday’s scheduled Ulster Bank League games were postponed.
Ireland: 197-5 (31 overs, P Stirling 80, K O’Brien 67 not out) Leicestershire 201-3 (H Ackerman 118 not out, J Taylor 48; K McCallan 2-29). Leicestershire won by seven wickets.