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Murtagh bowled over by Ireland's exciting future

 

Wickets: Tim Murtagh was in top form against Zimbabwe at Stormont
Wickets: Tim Murtagh was in top form against Zimbabwe at Stormont

By Ian Callender

Ireland may have just won a bilateral series for only the second time in five years but they are fired up to make it a 3-0 clean sweep when they face Zimbabwe again tomorrow in the final one-day international at Stormont (10.45am).

Leading the Ireland bowling attack once again will be Tim Murtagh, the 37-year-old Middlesex professional who not only bowled the decisive 10 overs and took his maiden five-wicket haul for county or adopted country, but also inspired his team to an exciting five runs win on Thursday with words and action.

"I've taken six wickets in a T20 match but this was my first List A five-for in 20 years playing the game, so it was overdue," he smiled.

"I spoke in the huddle (before the Zimbabwe innings) about setting the tone and walked out there saying 'I'm going to have to act on these words', so it was important to get those three early wickets.

"I thought everyone chipped in, even Kevin O'Brien who hadn't bowled a lot in recent games but his overs were very important as well.

"Series wins have been pretty rare in the last seven, eight years and to be two-up after two games is a magnificent feeling and there's some happy people in the dressing room, but we are all determined to finish the job on Sunday and win the series 3-0.

"That's how cricket is, you enjoy the moment and move on to the next one.

"We always felt we were going to have to bowl well to make 242 a winning score, and after the start we had we were a little bit disappointed we didn't finish with 260, 270 plus, but the bowling and fielding display was excellent to keep them below that.

"Yes, it was nervy at the end, but that is 50-over cricket, when you score 240, 250 it is going to go down to the wire. But it was important to win a close one."

All the first two matches have proven, however, is that Ireland and Zimbabwe are as close as the world rankings table would suggest.

Monday's four wickets win at Bready leapfrogged William Porterfield's side above Zimbabwe into 11th place but, even after Thursday's victory, the winners of tomorrow's game will still have bragging rights in the table.

"You can never rest on your laurels," added Murtagh. "It's pretty even between the two teams and hopefully we get another good game. But momentum is important in sport and we want to keep that going, and to wrap up the series 3-0 would be special."

In Craig Ervine, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams and Sikander Raza, Zimbabwe have a formidable engine room - batsmen three to six - with Ryan Burl, as he has shown in both games, a dangerous No.7.

The bowling attack is not nearly as effective in Irish conditions as at home in Harare and Bulawayo, but Williams and Raza still had Ireland's middle-lower order - which looks so good, if inexperienced, on paper - literally in a spin. They took four wickets in the last 10 overs for just 44 runs and restricted Ireland to a significantly under-par total.

But two games into a winning series, Murtagh has seen enough from the Ireland newbies to be encouraged there is a bright future.

"It was great for James McCollum and Lorcan Tucker," he said.

"They had looked good in practice and training but nothing equates to runs in the middle, and for those two to get their first 50s for Ireland was great to watch. Hopefully it's just the start of long careers for them, and Mark Adair can also kick on."

Earlier in the week, Paul Stirling said that McCollum was just one big score away from nailing down a regular place at the top of the batting order and, on the day that Stirling scored his 4,000th ODI run, McCollum hit 73, and they could be Ireland's opening pair for years to come.

Andrew Balbirnie is locked in at three, and while William Porterfield and Kevin O'Brien, with an astonishing 635 caps between them, are living on their reputations for the moment, behind them is the exciting trio of Tucker, Adair and Shane Getkate.

Tucker had his best game with the gloves for Ireland or Leinster Lightning on Monday and although he made a glaring error on Thursday, it cost only nine runs and he more than made up for it with the bat.

Getkate and Adair saw Ireland home in double quick time at Bready and have so far shared eight wickets in the series.

Same again tomorrow please.

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