Balbirnie and Tector fifties in vain as West Indies draw first blood

Hosts show brutal ability to quell Irish momentum in series opener at Sabina Park

West Indies (269 a.o. 48.5 overs) (Shamarh Brooks 93, Kieron Pollard 69; Craig Young 3-56) defeat Ireland (245 a.o. 49.1 overs) (Andy Balbirnie 71, Harry Tector 53; Romario Shepherd 3-50) by 24 runs.

In the end it was two powerful West Indian counterpunches that saw them home as Ireland suffered a 24-run defeat to their hosts in the series opener in Jamaica.

The first came after Ireland’s purple patch with the ball reduced their hosts to 62-4. The West Indies rebounded with a brutal 155-run partnership between two men at the opposite ends of their careers.

West Indies captain Kieron Pollard did what he has done for so long now, bludgeoning his way to 69 (66), while debutant Shamarh Brooks fell agonisingly short of a dream ton on his international bow. His knock of 93 (89) was a classy one that combined some deft touches behind square with sheer power down the ground.

Despite staring into what looked like an impressive total of 269 on an initially slow pitch, Ireland had the chase under control as skipper Andrew Balbirnie combined with Harry Tector to put on 103.

For a long period of their innings, Ireland had played this perfectly thanks to the decision at the toss to bat second on a pitch that flattened out from its bowler-friendly starting point. It even appeared that another match-winning Balbirnie century was on the cards. He has hit seven in his ODI career, occasions when Ireland tend to win.

Then came the other West Indian counterpunch.

Balbirnie fell in the 37th over after driving, sweeping and pulling his way to 71 (94). Throwing his hands at a clever slower ball from Romario Shepherd, he could only nick behind to the grateful Shai Hope. Eight balls later, Tector followed for 53 (68), the extra pace of Odean Smith sending another nick flying straight to Roston Chase on the third man fence.

This was Tector’s first appearance since being dropped from the T20 squad. He admits himself he feels more settled in 50-over cricket, and it showed today as the YMCA man notched his fifth half-century in his last eight ODIs. His maximum over long off was up there with any other stroke played on the day.

It was hardly a procession for the West Indies from there as George Dockrell and Mark Adair displayed a welcome ability to dispatch failed yorkers over the rope, but it always looked a tall order for the Irish tail.

The death combination of Jason Holder slower balls and Alzarri Joseph 140+ km/h yorkers was more than effective. Lorcan Tucker tried to counteract the latter with a ramp over fine leg, only to run the ball off the face straight onto his own middle pole.

The glare Joseph gave his victim told what he thought about the shot. Gareth Delany received a similar silent send-off when he saw a yorker disturb his own timber.

The positives from an Irish point of view stem from a doggedness with the ball early on in the first innings, a willingness to keep pounding away at a good length and capitalise on resultant errors. The rewards came when Delany and Tector took good low, diving catches, with Tucker and William Porterfield clinging onto more routine efforts.

Josh Little was tasked with bowling three spells, one exploiting movement off the pitch with the new ball, one to shift momentum in the middle overs, and a final effort to limit the damage at the death. His late success hiding the ball from the West Indies tail outside off perhaps showing the benefit of regular bowling on the franchise circuit.

Elsewhere, Andy McBrine looked at times exquisite with his stroke play after being promoted to number three. It shouldn’t be too surprising seeing as he does have an ODI half-century and regularly bats up the order for the North West Warriors, but a good drive through extra cover always elicits a certain reaction.

It was a harsh end to see him retire hurt after being hit on the helmet by a Smith bouncer (not the only time extra pace troubled an Irish batter).

The expected return of Paul Stirling will soften the likely absence of McBrine going forward in the series, if he does indeed have some sort of concussive symptoms, but you can’t help but feel robbed of seeing where the off-spinner could have taken his innings.

His plight summed up Ireland’s day. Positive signs threatened to secure a confidence-boosting victory, only for a brutal West Indian blow to dash Irish hopes.