Middle order problems resurface to cost Ireland against bogey team UAE

Andrew Balbirnie continues to thrive but questions surround what comes next

UAE 178/5 (20 overs) (Rohan Mustafa 54, Vriitya Aravind 50; Craig Young 4-28) defeat Ireland 165/7 (Andrew Balbirnie 42, Gareth Delany 40, Curtis Campher 40; Palaniapan Meiyappan 2-23) by 13 runs.

This wasn't quite a step back for Ireland since Gareth Delany showed just why captain and coach are both keen to have him batting up at three, but familiar middle order problems resurfaced during a 13-run defeat to UAE in Oman.

This was the second warmup game ahead of next week’s T20 World Cup qualifiers, and UAE have a good recent history against this Ireland team having won a bilateral series before last year’s World Cup.

Ireland continued with the same formula of opting to bowl first at the toss, and while not having the same accuracy in the field as was shown in Saturday’s win over Oman, Simi Singh and Craig Young both once again impressed with the ball, the latter taking four wickets at the cost of 28 runs.

Vriitya Aravind and Rohan Mustafa both notched half-centuries as the UAE ended up on 178 for five, a total that felt only slightly above par.

In reply, a calamitous mixup led to the run out of Paul Stirling in the first over, though captain Andrew Balbirnie continued his good form at the top of the order with a knock of 42 (27). It’s not so much the runs he is scoring, but the manner in which they are coming that excites. His career T20I strike rate is a hair over 126, but so far on this tour his two knocks have come at 153 and 155.5 respectively. A small sample size, but the early verdict is that he is thriving in his new opening role.

Balbirnie combined with Delany to put Ireland well on top coming towards the end of the powerplay. Since the decision to move Delany up to three was made before Christmas, the question has always been will his power game stay successful up the order? Sunday went some way to answering that as the Leinster man hit five boundaries and two maximums at a strike rate of 200 before being bowled by Rohan Mustafa.

Once Balbirnie also departed sweeping leggie Palaniapan Meiyappan into the deep, the lingering feeling was that though Ireland were on top, it would still be a test for this middle order to see them home.

Curtis Campher scored 40 (39), playing the anchor role to take the game deep but he found the rope only twice while few boundaries came at the other end.

That ultimately was Ireland’s downfall as Maiyappan and Ahmed Raza put the squeeze on with the ball turning away from the right hander. Zahoor Khan also returned from an expensive first over to put in a quality death bowling display as his yorker proved particularly effective. In the end, the last over only went for six runs as Ireland came up 13 short.

Ireland know their biggest batting weakness is the middle order. It likely won’t drastically improve before next week’s qualifiers, so the question is can those lower down do what is required to support one of Stirling, Balbirnie or now likely Delany to win enough games to qualify?

One more warmup game remains on Monday against Nepal.