Record-breaking Ireland blow West Indies away
A world record powerplay score by Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien set up a stunning victory for Ireland over world T20 champions West Indies in the first of the three-game series in Grenada last night.
The openers put on 154, an Ireland record for any wicket, with 93 of them coming in the first six overs, but the loss of O'Brien in the 12th over followed by Stirling, five runs short of a first century in the shortest format, just five balls later, halted the charge.
Of the remaining batsmen, only Gareth Delany and Gary Wilson could find the boundary in the final eight overs and a total of 208-7, only Ireland's joint third highest, was barely par on a true batting surface.
The Ireland attack, minus the injured Boyd Rankin and Mark Adair, were always going to be up against it in a case of anything you can do, we can do better.
But as they have done repeatedly on this tour, the bowlers rose to the task and no-one more so than Josh Little, the 20-year-old Dubliner who was entrusted with the last over with West Indies needing 13 to win and two-time World Cup winner, 37-year-old Dwayne Bravo, still in the middle.
Sherfane Rutherford was on strike for the first ball but his attempt to hit Little straight down the ground ended in the safe hands of George Dockrell who took his third catch of the innings.
With the batsmen having crossed, Bravo faced the second ball and he made no mistake, clearing the boundary at long-on. But Little did not buckle, restricting the most experienced T20 player in the world to a two off the next and Bravo then turned down a single off the fourth, with just five wanted from two balls.
He hit the fifth ball to the square leg boundary but not well enough and Gareth Delany held the catch nervelessly.
One ball to go, six to win, or four for a Super Over decider. Little bowled full and just outside the off stump, Hayden Walsh made no contact and Ireland had beaten West Indies for only the second time in a T20 international, the last six years ago, a low-scoring affair in Jamaica.
But from the off this was high stakes cricket and Ireland were up for it. In a stunning opening, Stirling dominated the strike, facing all but 11 balls in those first six overs and brought up his 50 in 20 balls with three fours and five sixes, two of them off Bravo's first two balls on his return to the international arena for the first time since 2016.
Stirling's eighth boundary took Ireland past the previous highest six-over total of 91, by West Indies against Bangladesh in Sylhet in 2018. In his record-breaking start he also became the fourth fastest to score 2,000 runs in T20Is.
O'Brien was content to play second fiddle but still scored at a strike rate of 150 before Bravo returned for his second spell and with a brilliant yorker bowled Ireland's most capped player, two short of his half-century.
Crucially, Stirling followed, caught at deep square leg off leg spinner Hayden Walsh and suddenly the runs dried up.
After the quick loss of Andrew Balbirnie and Harry Tector, Delany and Gary Wilson, who kept the wicket-keeping gloves at the expense of Lorcan Tucker despite losing the T20 captaincy, hit back with a vital 35-run partnership, which included two sixes by Delany off Kesrick Williams.
Runs were definitely left out there and although West Indies were restricted to 63-1 in their first six overs, they were up with the run rate and Shimron Hetmyer's second six brought up the 100 in the 10th over.
But, crucially, Ireland kept taking wickets and just when the Windies seemed to be in control, Simi Singh had Pollard caught at long-on with a leg spinner and it was 150-4 with 34 balls left.
A superb 17th over by Dockrell when he conceded just two singles seemed to be the winning over for Ireland but Barry McCarthy was hit for 27 in the 18th and now it was for the West Indies to lose.
But Craig Young kept the pressure on with the huge wicket of Nick Pooran and Little, gloriously, finished the job.