Ireland clinch thriller thanks to Paul Stirling’s 47-ball 95

West Indies

Ireland 208 for 7 (Stirling 95, O’Brien 48, Bravo 2-28, Cottrell 2-37, Pierre 2-45) beat West Indies 204 for 7 (Lewis 53, Pollard 31, Little 3-29, Young 2-31) by four runs

Ireland had come desperately close to beating West Indies in the second match of their ODI series. On Wednesday, they actually got over the line, in one of the strangest and most seesawing T20 games you’ll see. They looked like they were running away with it for the first quarter of the match, thanks to a barnstorming 47-ball 95 from Paul Stirling, but West Indies clawed their way back with a brilliant display of T20 bowling smarts led by Dwayne Bravo, who was playing his first international match in three-and-a-half years.

Instead of a target in the 240-250 range, which looked eminently possible at one stage, West Indies were set 209 to win. They were always in touch with their required rate, with every member of their top six getting among the runs, but they somehow – not least thanks to some brave bowling choices and brilliant catching from Ireland – fell narrowly short.

Sensational Stirling, brilliant Bravo

Of the eight batsmen to have got past the 2000-run mark in T20Is, David Warner has the best strike rate, 140.85. Who’s second, at 139.77?

You’ve read the headline of this report, so you know who it is. And yes, Stirling has played a large proportion of his T20Is against non-Full-Member or lower-ranked-Full-Member teams. But he can do it against the top teams too.

Just ask West Indies, who seemed in utter disarray when he was in the middle. At the six-over mark, Ireland were 93 for no loss. No team had previously scored that many runs in the powerplay of a T20I game for which ESPNcricinfo has ball-by-ball data. The pitch in Grenada was flat, but Ireland’s openers were also in rare form, with Stirling punishing anything in his arc with clean hits down the ground, and Kevin O’Brien pulling even marginally short balls for six.

At the 12-over mark, Ireland were still on course for a gargantuan total, with Stirling and O’Brien having moved them to 153 for no loss and set a new record for Irish first-wicket partnerships.

But this was Bravo’s comeback game, and he wasn’t going to let it slip by without making some noise of his own. His first over had gone for 18, with Stirling taking his first three balls for 4, 6, 6. He was picking Bravo’s famous slower ball out of his hand, holding his shape, and launching him dismissively down the ground.

This pitch wasn’t one for floaty slower balls, so Bravo went to his other famous weapon, and fired in three yorkers in a row. O’Brien kept out the first two, but he couldn’t stop the third one, dipping late with a tiny bit of inward swerve, from crashing into his off stump.

That ball was the start of a dramatic mid-innings slump that saw Ireland losing 4 for 10, including the wicket of Stirling – who for once miscued a slog-sweep in an innings full of mighty slog-sweeps – in 19 balls. Bravo began the slide, but equally important was the quickish turn and variety of Hayden Walsh, whom Ireland’s batsmen struggled to pick.

Gary Wilson and Gareth Delany got Ireland moving again with a 35-run stand, in 17 balls, for the fifth wicket, but Bravo came back and conceded just four runs in the 19th over, which included another dipping yorker to bowl Delany, and Sheldon Cottrell finished off with wickets off the last two balls of the innings, having conceded only six runs off the over, to suck away their momentum again. In all, Ireland only made 55 in their last eight overs.

Ireland tear up the match-up rulebook

West Indies know how to chase 10 runs an over, and they were going about it clinically, reaching 105 for 2 at the halfway mark. Evin Lewis, carrying on his rich form from the ODIs, had scored 53 of those runs before falling to a Craig Young slower ball in the ninth over, and Shimron Hetmyer was taking the baton from him, clattering two sixes to get to 21 off 14.

Ireland had used George Dockrell‘s left-arm spin against two left-hand batsmen in the eighth over, and Hetmyer and Lewis had hit him for three sixes and taken him for 21 runs. Now, in the 11th over, Dockrell came back with one left-hander still at the crease.

A single to Kieron Pollard first ball brought Hetmyer on strike, and he immediately hit the next ball for six, clearing long-off with ease. That ball was outside off stump, but within Hetmyer’s hitting arc. Dockrell moved his line wider, Hetmyer tried to take on long-off once more, failed to get the desired elevation, and nearly offered the fielder a catch.

When he came back on strike for the last ball of the over, Dockrell dangled up another ball wide of off stump. Hetmyer went for it again, failed to connect cleanly once again, and this time long-off moved in quicker and dived forward to take a low catch.

At the start of the 15th over, West Indies needed 59 off 36 with seven wickets in hand, and Pollard on 31 off 13, striking the ball beautifully. Ireland brought the offspinner Simi Singh back into the attack. Pollard had hit Simi for a six and a four in his previous over; could Andy Balbirnie have turned to the legbreaks of Delany instead?

As it happened, Simi decided to bowl legspin himself. The first ball was punched back to the bowler. Pollard went after the second, went a little too hard at it, lost his shape, and holed out to long-on. The shot may have come about because West Indies had played out five dots in a row, with Josh Little tucking Nicholas Pooran up for room in his previous over, and foxing him with his pace variations.

Bravo falls narrowly short of fairytale finish

Pooran’s struggle continued into the 17th over, when Dockrell, continuing to bowl a wide line to the left-handers, beat him three times in a row. He was anxious, looking to hit the ball too hard, and was on 12 off 19 balls at the end of that over, with West Indies needing 43 off 18.

Having swung one way, the match immediately swung the other, with Sherfane Rutherford clattering a pair of sixes, over long-off and wide long-on, off the first two balls of the next over, bowled by Barry McCarthy. Pooran came on strike for the fourth ball, and suddenly discovered some clarity, carving McCarthy for a pair of fours through the off side, and launching him for a straight six in between.

The seesawing wasn’t quite done yet, though, with Pooran picking out deep backward square leg in the next over, and Bravo coming in and playing out successive dots off Young in a 19th over that went for just three runs.

This left West Indies 13 to get off the last over, which would be bowled by Little. Rutherford fell first ball, miscuing a leg-side heave, before Bravo put the pressure back on Ireland with a trademark pull-whip for six. Seven off four became five off two, and another pull-whip brought the stadium off its feet only for a sudden hush to descend as the ball disappeared inside deep midwicket’s hands. Hayden Walsh had to hit a six to win it, or a four to tie, but Little nailed a blockhole ball that he simply couldn’t put bat to, and Ireland, despite all the lost momentum, were over the line.

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