National coach Phil Simmons has compared Paul Stirling to the big hitters of world cricket after the opening batsman led Ireland to the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September.
Stirling, still just 21 years old, hit the second fastest half century ever in the shortest form of the game as Ireland produced their greatest ever performance in T20 cricket to win the qualifying tournament with a memorable five wickets success over Afghanistan, the No 1 seeds on the basis of their success, over Ireland, in this final two years ago.
But this time, no-one could live with William Porterfield’s team which, after being caught cold on the opening day won 10 matches out of 10 in 11 days, including two on Saturday, to charge to the winning post, leaving all-comers in their wake.
“We came here to not only qualify for the finals but to win the tournament,” said Simmons. “And Stirlo’s was a knock to put up with the Chris Gayles and the (Virender) Sehwags of this world. I think he is maturing so nicely and we look forward to what he is going to do at the Twenty20 World Cup.”
After a slow start, by his own high standards – just 49 runs in five games – Stirling amassed 308 in the next six matches, from just 180 balls, to finish as the tournament’s leading run-scorer and give Ireland a momentum which ended with Porterfield lifting the trophy in the Dubai International Stadium on Saturday night.
In the qualifying final against Namibia in the morning, Stirling was 59 not out from 32 balls when Ireland reached their modest target of 95 at the start of the 11th over – emphatic revenge for their four runs loss to the west Africans on the opening day – but he left even that innings in the shade in the tournament final.
Only Yuvraj Singh, who hit 50 in 12 balls with the help of six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad, has scored a faster T20 half century than Stirling who eventually holed out to deep square leg for 79, from 38 balls with nine fours and three sixes, just 40 runs short of Ireland’s target of 153.
His landmark was reached in 17, beating his own previous best against Canada, two days earlier, by four balls.
The victory puts Ireland into the same group as Australia and the West Indies, in Colombo, with their games on September 19 and 24 respectively.