Stirling shines as Ireland are denied
Paul Stirling’s highest score was not enough to take Ireland to a second successive Twenty20 success against Scotland, but Stuart Thompson hit the last ball of the match to earn a tie.
It was a fitting finale to a highly competitive match which swung one way then the other and in the end the teams could not be separated.
A Super Over is now used at most tournaments to decide T20 internationals but not for this Tri-Series and with Ireland winning only one of their four games, it is left to Scotland and Netherlands to decide who comes out on top after their final two games tomorrow and Wednesday.
But after two defeats by the Dutch, the last two days in Deventer has seen a much improved Ireland performance and there is, finally, a glimpse of a more promising future in the shortest format, after three years in the wilderness.
The team that had forgotten how to win in T20s, hammered Scotland on Saturday by 46 runs and if skipper Gary Wilson had given Thompson his final over yesterday they would probably have won this one as well.
Instead, he gave Barry McCarthy a fourth over which included two no balls and a ridiculous wide call — the batsman played over the top of the ball — and it cost 21 runs.
But such are the fine margins in close finishes. Peter Chase bowled a splendid final over, conceding just four singles and two leg byes so the Scots could say that was the over that cost them victory.
The pace bowling remains the weak link — certainly the most inconsistent — in this Ireland line-up but T20 cricket is all about what happens on the day and the only secret to success is to have more good ones than bad ones when it matters.
This one in the greater scheme of things didn’t matter. Ireland are on a long journey, the next tournament that counts will be the World Twenty20 Qualifiers, probably still 18 months away.
And on the evidence of the last four games — the first series under head coach Graham Ford —there are T20 specialists in for the long haul.
Stirling is a certainty and he not only completed his second successive half century but passed his previous best score of 79 but, one ball later he cut straight to short third man having already hit his fifth and sixth sixes — the first Ireland player to do so in a T20 international.
Kevin O’Brien could be 36- years-old by the time of the qualifiers but he too is likely to be one of the first names on the sheet and if he had stayed to the finish there was only going to be one winner.
But after hitting three sixes in his first 13 balls, he perished to the first ball of the last over going for a fourth.
It was no ordinary dismissal however.
Everyone thought that he had succeeded in clearing Dylan Budge at long-off but the fielder leapt into the air to flick the ball back from the boundary line and then dived forward to catch the ball at full stretch.
So instead of Ireland needing one to win from five balls, it was back to seven required for victory. Thompson was joined by Stuart Poynter and between them they could manage only a single, a two and a scrambled bye to get Thompson back on strike for the last ball.
A full delivery from Safyaan Sharif was driven to deep mid-off for a comfortable two but no more.
New skipper Gary Wilson continues to prove he is comfortable playing T20 cricket and maintained the required rate, while Simi Singh also scored at a run a ball before he was caught behind off Richie Berrington’s first delivery.
James Shannon again flattered to deceive at the top of the order but one big innings —of which he is perfectly capable — could be the making of him on the international stage.
Andrew Balbirnie was given his first match of the week on Saturday and made a classy 74 from 40 balls but, as can so easily happen, yesterday he faced 10 balls for just three before he was undone by a short ball and caught at short fine leg.
Unlike the format, there are no quick answers and Ireland’s next international opponents, in nine days’ time, are India!