Ireland’s Amy Hunter celebrates 16th birthday with historic innings in Harare

Teenager becomes the youngest player to score an ODI century in the history of the game

You would like to think that Amy Hunter woke up on her 16th birthday on tour in Zimbabwe to find some sort of present waiting from the rest of the squad. Instead, it was Hunter herself who came bearing gifts for her team-mates and her country on Monday, scoring an unbeaten century that handed Ireland a 3-1 series win over their hosts.

The list of records broken on one of Irish cricket’s standout days is extensive. Having barely turned 16, Hunter’s knock of 121 not out from 127 balls makes her the youngest player to hit a One-Day International century across either the men’s or women’s game. The Instonians wicketkeeper now holds the record for the highest individual score by an Irish woman in this format, just for good measure.

“Yeah, obviously it feels really good. It’s a bit surreal right now, I really didn’t know what to think to be honest,” said Hunter of her achievement before admitting she didn’t quite know how to go about celebrating reaching three figures.

“When I was coming up to my fifty I just wanted to stick by, get there and then when it came up to my hundred I had actually no idea what to do, I didn’t know whether to take the helmet off or keep it on or anything. But, yeah, it was unbelievable.”

Although cricketers talk of the nervous nineties, Hunter admitted all her nerves were in the first part of her innings.

“To be honest I probably felt more nervous for my fifty. I obviously didn’t do so well in the first three games so I was just delighted to be out there, to get that first four away and then from there it kind of flowed to be honest. From fifty to a hundred felt like it went much quicker than from nought to fifty.”

Ireland’s first-innings total of 312 for three is also the highest in their ODI history, while the group has also secured the first bilateral ODI series victory for an Irish women’s side away from home.

The greatest satisfaction from Monday though is what it means for this squad going forward. In November, Ireland will return to Zimbabwe for the World Cup qualifiers seeking both qualification for that tournament and the next cycle of the ICC Women’s Championship. Based on what has taken place on this tour, they will do so with the confidence that stems from having a solid line-up that has a track record of scoring runs in Zimbabwean conditions.

The top order has been the backbone of their wins so far on this tour. Openers Gaby Lewis and Leah Paul both notched back-to-back half-centuries in games two and three, while skipper Laura Delany scored 88 in the opening clash (albeit a defeat) batting at number four.

Hunter, coming in at number three since the second ODI, was the odd name out having failed to reach double figures so far in the series. That is, until Monday’s final game.

While Hunter is the youngest of the group at 16, her colleagues aren’t that far ahead of her. Lewis is vastly experienced having made her debut at 13, so much so that it is easy to forget she is only 20 now, while her opening partner Paul is 22. Skipper Delany is a rare old head at 28 – not exactly an age where people start questioning how much cricket you have left in you. Things are looking up for well beyond November’s qualifiers.

Returning to the present for now, a cursory look at the wagon wheel of Hunter’s knock suggests a 360 degree player that has the shots to access every part of the ground. The faith shown in her by the selectors implies that this feature of her game is something they have seen before, only for it now to be displayed on the international stage.

Lewis and Delany also continued their good form in the win, supporting Hunter with knocks of 78 and 68 respectively.

Ireland's defence of their total got off to an ideal start in the second over as Jane Maguire – another debutant on this tour – enticed Modester Mupachika into slogging a full delivery straight up into the air for wicketkeeper Mary Waldron to pouch.

Josephine Nkomo (66 off 106) and Mary-Anne Musonda (36 off 33) did ensure that Zimbabwe's innings had some substance, but an economical Irish bowling display held their hosts 85 runs short on 227 for eight after 50 overs. Delany continued her good day with two wickets while Sophie MacMahon picked up a pair of her own.

Meanwhile, the Irish men received some good news on Monday as X-rays confirmed that skipper Andrew Balbirnie has not suffered a broken foot. After being struck during Sunday's defeat to the UAE, doubts emerge as to whether the captain would be fit to play in the World T20 which starts next week.

However, now that it appears that the problem is just bruising and swelling, Balbirnie’s recovery will likely be a swift one.