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Paul Stirling

Paul Stirling

�INPHO/James Crombie

Paul Stirling

It was the sight of umpire Ian Gould that gave Paul Stirling a boost before Ireland faced Pakistan in the first of two one-day internationals at Clontarf on May 23, 2013.

It had been an underwhelming start to the year for Ireland's hard-hitting opening batsman. In five innings against UAE in Sharjah, he averaged 22, and had played only 2nd XI games for Middlesex.

But in the build-up to the first home international of the summer, Stirling recalls: "I remember Gunner (Gould is an Arsenal fan) walking up in the two days' practice before the match. I was out of form, not hitting the ball that well but I always seemed to score runs when he was standing, hundred after hundred, he appeared to be a lucky charm. 'Don't worry, I'm here now, you'll rock up and score runs', he said."

Stirling also had fond memories of playing Pakistan. Two years earlier he scored 109 against them at Stormont and Castle Avenue was a favourite ground of his.

"I really loved the dimensions at Clontarf. It's a short boundary up to the pavilion and a huge one down to the car park. I grew up watching Ireland playing there, I remember watching the ICC Trophy final in 2005, and against Pakistan it was a great atmosphere, a packed house," he says.

Despite the cold weather and a first innings interrupted four times by rain, the visitors scored 266-5, with 140 of them coming from the last 16 overs.

"They batted quite reservedly for much of the innings but always had wickets in hand," recalls Stirling. "I managed to sneak a few overs in myself from the top end (five overs for 31). But the rain breaks didn't help them as they were always starting again."

A DLS revised target set Ireland 276 to win in 47 overs.

In the Pakistan side that day was the tallest bowler in world cricket, 7ft 1ins Mohammad Irfan, and the No 1 ODI bowler, Saeed Ajmal.

"Ajmal was brilliant in that game in Stormont, at the height of his powers, but a cold day helped us in Dublin. The batting unit had had a chat with (coach) Phil Simmons before the game on how to play their spinners, as that was their main threat. That day it really came off, we were aggressive and didn't lose too many wickets," he says.

Ajmal had figures of 0-71.

But it was a tough start for Stirling. "It wasn't a typical boundary-striking start for me, I remember getting hit on the inside thigh a lot (by Irfan) and there were a lot of inside edges. I only started scoring well when I got to 30," he says.

That coincided with the loss of his captain, William Porterfield, but Stirling dominated the second wicket stand of 96 with Ed Joyce and in the next over he brought up his fifth ODI century from 102 balls with 12 fours and a six.

He was out, three runs later, trying to pull Irfan, with Ireland still needing 105 from 11.4 overs but "when you have Kevin still in you know you have a chance".

Kevin O'Brien had joined Stirling at the fall of Joyce's wicket and the rest of the game belonged to the man who had scored the fastest World Cup hundred two years earlier. O'Brien, almost single-handedly reduced the target to 15 from the last over, to be bowled by Ajmal. Only two singles came from the first three balls.

Stirling remembers the amazing finale: "Kevin hit the next ball for six, a beautiful shot into the pavilion, then picked up a two down the ground, so left him needing a six to win the match, a four to tie. It was a bit of a mishit, supposed to go to the tent where we were sitting but ended up coming off the inside half of the bat past Irfan at short fine leg."

They say lightning never strikes twice yet, seven weeks later, Ireland recorded another tie, against Netherlands in Amsterdam. But there was to be no repeat performance for Stirling. In the second game, which Pakistan won by three wickets, despite Gould umpiring again, Stirling was out for a third ball duck.

Scores: Pakistan 266-5 (Mohammad Hafeez 122 not out, Asad Shafiq 84; K O'Brien 2-43, A Cusack 2-50) Ireland 275-5 (P Stirling 103, K O'Brien 84 not out, E Joyce 32). Match tied. DLS target 276.

Belfast Telegraph