Paul Stirling’s maiden T20 century for Ireland ensured a 40 runs victory and a 2-1 lead in the five-match series against Zimbabwe in front of almost 500 spectators at Bready in Co Tyrone on Wednesday afternoon.
The opener batted through a T20 innings for the first time to pass his previous best score of 95, against West Indies last year, and thrill the cricket-mad north-west crowd who love big hitting.
Stirling saved most of it for the final two overs, which effectively settled the contest. He hit half of his eight sixes and two of his eight fours in his last 11 balls to move from 77 to 115 not out, taking Ireland to a total of 178 for two, the highest in Ireland outside of Malahide.
Yet, his early message back to the players’ tent was that it was a tough wicket.
“It was a tricky start and I was just glad to get through the new ball. It was one of the worst powerplays in terms of runs we’ve had in a long time so to win from behind the eight-ball was what was really special about today,” he said. “We don’t do it that often and it’s something we can take great confidence from.
“To get a few runs was nice. I was just looking to get us to an above-par score which we felt was around 150-160, so it was great to get 20 runs in the bank.”
Put into bat, Stirling and Kevin O'Brien scored only 33 from the first six powerplay overs and O'Brien holed out to mid-off from the penultimate ball.
Andrew Balbirnie was happy to give Stirling the strike as often as possible but still hit a six and three fours and Shane Getkate also struck three boundaries to maintain the momentum.
Ireland made three changes to the team that had won at Clontarf on Sunday with William McClintock given his debut – although he will have to wait until today, at least, to get a bat – in place of Harry Tector and Mark Adair and Josh Little came in for Craig Young and Barry McCarthy.
Adair was the most impressive of the Ireland bowlers, taking a wicket in each of his three overs at a cost of just 11 runs, while Little, leg-spinner Ben White and Getkate equally shared the other six wickets. The last was a run out in the 19th over to cap another impressive Ireland bowling effort; the best Zimbabwe partnership was 28.
“To get 10 wickets in a T20 is a really good achievement,” said Balbirnie, not knowing it was actually the first time Ireland had done so against Full Member opposition.
“We want to win the series – we were desperately upset by the first game – but it’s a quick turnaround and we’ll look to put on another good show tomorrow.”
P Stirling not out 115
K O'Brien c Ervine b Jongwe 9
A Balbirnie c Shumba b Burl 31
S Getkate not out 19
Extras (1b 1lb 2w) 4
Total (2 wkts, 20 ovs) 178
Did not bat: G Dockrell, W McClintock, S Singh, M Adair, N Rock, J Little, B White
Fall: 1-32 2-109
Bowling: W Mazakadza 3-0-25-0, T Chatara 4-0-47-0, R Ngarava 3-1-26-0, L Jongwe 4-0-37-1, R Burl 4-0-30-1, W Madhevere 2-0-11-0
W Madhevere c Balbirnie b Adair 13
T Marumani c Balbirnie b Little 14 (12)
R Chakabva lbw b White 7
D Myers c O'Brien b Getkate 14 (10)
C Ervine b Ervine 33 (18)
M Shumba b White 6 (8)
L Jongwe c Rock b Adair 7 (5)
R Burl c Singh b Adair 26 (23)
W Mazakadza b Little 4 (6)
T Chatara not out 3 (8)
R Ngarava run out 1 (1)
Extras (1b 7lb 2w) 10
Total (18.2 overs) 138
Fall: 1-15 2-33 3-54 4-56 5-84 6-97 7-104 8-121 9-136
Bowling: P Stirling 1-0-14-0, M Adair 3-0-11-3, S Singh 4-0-32-0, J Little 3.2-0-18-2, S Getkate 4-0-32-2, B White 3-0-23-2
Ireland won by 40 runs