It has been a long wait for Ireland’s return to T20 international action and for much of yesterday’s game against South Africa it looked as if they hadn’t played the shortest format for 16 months.
In contrast, the Proteas had just won a best of five series win against West Indies and their in-tune bowlers knew too much for an Ireland side which, thanks to a last wicket stand of 44, comfortably the highest of the innings, they made it into three figures and reduced the victory margin to 33 runs.
Harry Tector, dropped on two, Andrew Balbirnie and Barry McCarthy, with a defiant late assault, were the only batsmen to reach double figures and the Ireland side will need every one of the next seven games this summer if they are to be ready to compete when the T20 World Cup gets under way in less than two months time.
Inevitably, Tabraiz Shamsi, the world’s No 1 T20 ranked bowler, was man of the match, taking four wickets for 27, including three in 11 balls which ripped out the heart of the Ireland middle order.
However, the main damage had been done even before he was introduced in the eighth over with Ireland losing both openers inside seven balls and George Dockrell, who surprisingly came in at No 4, and Balbirnie were both out before the six-over powerplay had been completed.
“We would have taken 165 at halfway having put them in,” admitted captain Balbirnie afterwards. “But having a powerplay like that you are really up against it. We didn’t bat well enough to win the game so we have go away and come back on Thursday with a better game plan.
“We don’t have a lot of time to turn it round, but we will keep that positive approach and make sure the guys have the full backing of the group.”
The remaining two games in the series are at Stormont and one player who will be glad to see the back of Malahide is Paul Stirling. Ireland’s best batsman hit the first ball of the innings from slow left armer George Linde – the one new face in the South Africa line-up from the ODI series - for six but missed with the sweep shot next ball and was bowled.
In four innings over the last nine days, Stirling has scored 57 runs and now passed 50 only once in 16 attempts on the ground.
Kevin O’Brien can’t seem to get a run anywhere at the minute for Ireland, and he failed to survive his first legitimate delivery yesterday, popping a simple return catch to Kagiso Rabada and Ireland were seven for two.
Balbirnie hinted at a fightback with four boundaries in nine balls but the ball after he was missed at backward point, he tried to loft Lungi Ngidi over the keeper and failed.
Tector had already been missed by a diving Quinton de Kock to enjoy the first life of the day but he was able to cash in and, just as he was in Ireland’s last T20I, against Afghanistan in March 2020, he finished as top scorer.
However, the wickets fell steadily at the other end with Shamsi weaving his magic wand. Simi Singh, who was Ireland’s best bowler on the day, could not follow up his batting heroics from Friday and missed a sweep in the mystery spinner’s first over and after Linde bowled Tucker, who gave him all three stumps to aim at, Shamsi accounted for Shane Getkate and Mark Adair in the space of three balls.
The best Ireland batting – admittedly, with the pressure off - came from McCarthy at the end. Coming to the middle at 70 for eight, he was still there when the overs ran out, with his best score for Ireland in his 50th game and with Josh Little put on Ireland’s best partnership in T20 cricket.
To be fair to all the home bowlers, they never allowed the South Africa innings to get out of control with the fifth wicket partnership of 36 between Aiden Markram and David Miller the best, after Mark Adair had taken the first two wickets in his first eight balls.
Josh Little finished strongly, conceding just four runs in the 19th over but in the end, the 17 runs which Rabada took off Adair’s last did not matter.