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Victorious Irish can do better: Wilson

 

Striking out: Ireland's Paul Stirling on his way to 62 yesterday
Striking out: Ireland's Paul Stirling on his way to 62 yesterday

By Ian Callender

You would imagine that an eight-wicket win in your opening match of a global tournament would keep the captain happy, but Gary Wilson is harder to please.

While delighted that Ireland made a winning start to their T20 World Cup qualifying campaign, Wilson insisted it wasn't the bowlers' best day's work.

They still restricted Hong Kong to 153-5 and, in what the skipper described as a clinical chase, Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie made light of their target as Ireland eased home with 16 balls to spare. But the skipper insisted there was room for improvement with the ball in today's game under the lights in Abu Dhabi against hosts UAE.

"We were good, but not maybe as good as we can be with the ball," said Wilson. "There are areas we can work on. We were maybe a little too full early on -only Boyd (Rankin) consistently bowled the right length as his figures show, going for 18 without conceding a boundary.

"But, having said that, we dragged it back pretty well. The pitch was slower than we would have liked, it was probably a 165 par and we would have liked to have restricted them a bit more, but Paul was outstanding with the bat - it's great to see him back to his outstanding best - and Andrew just adds a real calmness to a chase, with good shots and a decent strike rate."

Stirling had lost his opening partner to the last ball of the first over after Kevin O'Brien had called him for a single but failed to make his ground and, for the first time in his 351-match international career, he was out without facing a ball (he was run out after facing his first ball at the 2015 World Cup against West Indies).

Stirling had nothing to feel guilty about, but it seemed to make him even more determined to post a big score. He had signalled his intentions with the first ball, which he dispatched over the long-on boundary, and four more boundaries followed in the space of seven balls before the powerplay was up, the pick of which was his trademark punch off the back foot through extra cover.

The second time he played it, the ball travelled even faster to the boundary and it brought him his seventh 50 of the year in the shortest format - equalling India captain Virat Kholi's tally - this one from just 26 balls.

Possibly frustrated by a run of four singles - albeit from four balls - Stirling hit his 36th delivery straight to mid-off, having hit eight fours and two sixes.

His dismissal was the cue for Balbirnie to take over the bulk of the scoring and he brought up only his fourth T20 half-century with his sixth four. By that stage, Ireland needed only 33 from six overs and, with Harry Tector looking equally comfortable at the other end, the result was never in doubt - despite Wilson's post-match grievances.

As he said, Rankin was the best bowler on view despite not taking a wicket, although Mark Adair wasn't far behind and he did claim two, including the big one of Kinchit Shah who had threatened to take his side above the 'par' score, having eight of the 11 boundaries.

Attempting his ninth, he holed out to long-off and Hong Kong then lost their way, adding only 29 in the last four overs.

Stuart Thompson and David Delany both picked up a wicket but each conceded a third of the innings' boundaries in the open bowl that is Sheikh Zayed Stadium - Hong Kong ran 20 'twos' against an average of seven in Ireland's last nine T20s - while spinners Gareth Delany and George Dockrell were tidy.

UAE are two places above Ireland in the T20 rankings, but Wilson is not taking any notice of those over the next few weeks.

"Singapore have beaten Scotland (the top-ranked side, by two runs)," he said. "Every team is here on merit and capable of beating anyone on their day."

The Netherlands restored normal order with a 30-run defeat of Kenya in the other opening day Group A game in Dubai, and last night Oman, expected to be Ireland's main challengers for top spot in Group B, beat the hosts by seven wickets. Oman, who Ireland play on Monday, restricted UAE to 108-9.

Meanwhile, Woodvale have confirmed that Pat Botha will be their overseas professional for their return to the Premier League next season. The South African was last year's professional at Carrickfergus.

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