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Balbirnie on a high as ton gives Ireland total control

 

By Ian Callender in Malahide

Andrew Balbirnie's debut first-class century sealed an almost perfect opening day for Ireland, their first as a Test nation. With superb discipline and professionalism - characteristics that will be needed in abundance in the years ahead when they meet their new peers in the elite of the world game - they scored 292 for two to take a stranglehold on their penultimate game in the Intercontinental Cup.

A vastly under-strength Netherlands side, which included one debutant and two others making their first-class debut, did well to restrict Ireland's top four to just three runs an over, but already the hosts are well placed to post a total which should ensure they have to bat only once in this match.

With a poor forecast for today, it may be the only way to get a maximum points victory, the main objective for the team currently one point behind Afghanistan in the I-Cup table.

Balbirnie had scored only one century for Ireland in his previous 60 games, and although the 26-year-old Dubliner lost his contract at Middlesex last year, mainly because of injury, he is a much more confident and technically correct batsman after his five-year stay at Lord's.

He has already faced 238 balls in this innings and the final run of the day brought him his career-best score, passing the 129 against New Zealand A in a one-day game in Dubai in November 2014, the innings which booked his place in the Ireland squad for the World Cup finals four months later.

There he made 97 against Zimbabwe to establish himself as a regular in the team and his elevation to captain of the Ireland Wolves side this year has put him in pole position to succeed William Porterfield.

Not that Porterfield is likely to step down any time soon. Once again he proved his value with his eighth half-century in the I-Cup and although he fell well short of a fifth century, caught at second slip for 60, he had done the hard work by seeing off the new ball which offered early assistance to the bowlers, the reason why Dutch skipper Peter Borren asked Ireland to bat after winning the toss.

Ireland went into the game, as expected, with their most experienced line-up, leaving Jack Tector and Nathan Smith waiting for their senior debuts with Barry McCarthy the other player left out of the starting line-up.

Ed Joyce had to survive a couple of scares early on with edges that could easily have gone to hand before he brought up the first landmark of the day, his 1,000th run in I-Cup cricket. But 15 runs later, he was the first wicket of the day, a pull shot straight to mid-wicket which brought Balbirnie to the middle 25 minutes before lunch.

Porterfield went 52 minutes without a run either side of the interval as Borren bowled eight successive maidens from the pavilion end, but when the captain finally got to 35, he overtook Andrew White as Ireland's leading runs scorer in the competition.

He broke free shortly afterwards, hitting successive deliveries for four, four and six but four overs later he got a good ball, and his 149th was his last.

Balbirnie was just as patient early on, taking 122 balls to reach his half century but his second 50 came from just 54 balls, his first six followed by a sweep shot to long leg to put him in the record books as the scorer of Ireland's first 100 as an ICC Full Member.

"I haven't played a lot of first-class cricket so it was one of my goals to get one here at the back end of the summer for Ireland," said Balbirnie.

"It was good to get a day's cricket under our belts after so much rain yesterday and we are set up well for the next three days."

At the other end for the last 46 overs of the day was John Anderson, who, like Balbirnie, survived one definite chance but he has already maintained his record of scoring a 50 in every I-Cup appearance. This was his sixth and he resumes this morning 57 not out, with Ireland targeting 450.

Scoreboard

IRELAND

E Joyce c Zulfiqar b Borren 43

W Porterfield c van Beek b Snater 60

A Balbirnie not out 130

J Anderson not out 57

Extras (1nb 1w) 2

Total (2 wkts, 96 overs) 292

To bat: G Wilson, K O’Brien, S Singh, J Mulder, T Murtagh, B Rankin, P Chase

Fall: 1-75 2-142

Bowling: L van Beek 14-3-54-0, S Snater 23-4-72-1, O Gunning 23-4-64-0, P Borren 24-8-57-1,  M O’Dowd 10-3-33-0, S Zulfiqar 2-0-12-0

Netherlands: S Myburgh, W Barresi, B Cooper, S Zulfiqar, D ter Braak, P Borren, L van Beek, T Visée, M O’Dowd, Q Gunning, S Snater.

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