Ireland off to winning start in Cricket World Cup qualifiers
Balbirnie’s 68 helps his side to a rain-affected win over the Netherlands in Zimbabwe
Andrew Balbirnie top scored with 68 in Harare. Photograph: Cricket Ireland
Ireland (268-7) beat Netherlands (141 ao) by 93 runs (DLS method)
A near flawless team effort saw Ireland begin the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier tournament with a commanding victory over the Netherlands in a rain-affected match by 93 runs (DLS method) in Harare on Sunday.
Ireland Captain William Porterfield may have lost the toss, but the Dutch captain may have done the Irish team a favour by putting them in to bat first.
Under what has now become seen as ‘traditional grey skies’, the early Dutch bowling was tight, and the Ireland openers set about a steady but cautious start to proceedings. Paul Stirling, who was dropped on 9, made a steady 20 runs (39 balls; 3 x fours) before holing out at deep square leg with the score at 59 in the 14th over.
To the wicket came the experienced Ed Joyce (32 runs off 50 balls; 3 x fours), who then - in partnership with Porterfield - continued the steady build up. Porterfield started to show increasing flair as he neared his half-century, but fell on 47 (69 balls; 4 x fours, 1 x six) trapped in front by the economical South African-born Dutch spinner, Roelof van der Merwe (1-32, 10 overs).
When Joyce went a few overs later with the score on 118-3 in the 29th over, Ireland’s pairing of in-form Andrew Balbirnie and the ever-dangerous Niall O’Brien set about raising the tempo. Their 101-run partnership in 82 balls ensured the batting side took the upper hand in the crucial middle overs, and gave a great platform for following batsmen to have a dash in the last overs.
Balbirnie, who has averaged 64.25 runs in his last four knocks, was once again his team’s top-scorer with 68 runs (75 balls; 4 x fours, 1 x six) bringing up his half-century by nonchalantly helping a bouncer down to fine leg for four. While Balbirnie was assured, his partner Niall O’Brien was at times brutal on the bowling, putting away five boundaries and two sixes in an innings of 49 (35 balls). Appearing set for a big score, O’Brien fell one short of his half-century.
The Dutch bowlers then tried to wrestle back momentum by claiming Kevin O’Brien (4 runs; 6 balls) and Gary Wilson for a second-ball duck, but Balbirnie and George Dockrell - last-ball hero from the last match - steadied to get the score to 243-6 before the excellent Balbirnie finally fell.
Sensing a rain delay imminent, and understanding the value to quick runs, Dockrell was joined by Barry McCarthy who blazed a quick 17* off 14 balls (1 x six), and together with Dockrell 12* (14 balls; 1 x four), took the final score for Ireland to a highly competitive 268-7 from 50 overs.
For the Dutch side, the tall Australian-born paceman Timm van der Gugten claimed 3-59 from his 10 overs, but it was the acceleration in scoring by the Ireland side after the 35th over that put the men in green into the box seat. That period saw almost 100 runs taken from the last 15 overs, which proved crucial given the subsequent rain delay.
That rain fell heavily, but briefly, just after the conclusion of Ireland’s innings and caused a delayed re-start of play. The match officials, using the Duckworth-Lewis Method, then announced that the Netherlands had a revised target of 243 runs in 41 overs.
Quick early wickets were the order of the day for Ireland attack, and paceman Tim Murtagh (3-28 from 7 overs) struck early on the third ball of the Netherlands innings bowling Max O’Dowd for a first ball duck. Murtagh then struck again a few overs later, getting the other opener Wesley Barresi for 15 runs (20 balls; 2 x fours) and having the Dutch at 25-2 in the seventh over.
The Ireland bowling attack never let the Dutch batting side settle, and despite a few small partnerships, regular wickets punctuated the innings. Captain Porterfield made regular bowling changes throughout the innings, and his frontline men stood tall. Murtagh, Barry McCarthy (2-28; 6 overs), Boyd Rankin (2-18; 5.2 overs) and Kevin O’Brien (2-28; 7 overs) all grabbed important wickets and bowled economically.
As the end neared for the Dutch side, a late flurry of 41 runs in six overs was never going to be enough, and when Rankin claimed the final wicket of van der Gugten for 33 runs (25 balls; 3 x fours, 2 x sixes) the final scoreline accurately portrayed the dominant display today from the whole Ireland team.
Andrew Balbirnie, awarded Player of the Match for his innings of 68, said after the match: “The first game of any tournament is huge, we know the Dutch are a dangerous team, so to come out with a convincing win in the end is quite a relief to get the tournament going after a while of prep. The guys all put in a great performance.”
“It was a bit worrying when we saw the rain, the clouds and the thunder, but all in all we were pretty happy with today’s performance.”
Ireland captain William Porterfield said: “We think 250 on that pitch would have been a par score, so to get above that we were happy. It was always going to rain today according to the forecast, and we had a look at the conditions and then we’d bowl first if we had the choice.”
“In terms of other results today, our view is that this is the first game of the tournament - we can’t look past our next game against PNG. Our focus is to come out of our group with the maximum number of points as possible, so it is kind of irrelevant at this stage how others performed.”
Elsewhere today in Group A (Ireland’s Group), the UAE struggled to overcome the plucky Papua New Guinean side, who Ireland will face on Tuesday.
Ireland 268-7 (50 overs; A Balbirnie 68, N O’Brien 49, W Porterfield 47; T van der Gugten 3-59)
Netherlands 149 all out (target 241, 32.2/41 overs; T van der Gugten 33; T Murtagh 3-28, B Rankin 2-19, K O’Brien 2-38, B McCarthy 2-28)
Ireland won by 93 runs (DLS method)