Ireland battled hard, and looked the better side early on, but ultimately fell short of the target against the West Indies in Harare on Saturday as they went down to a 52-run defeat in the World Cup qualifying tournament.
Captain William Porterfield won the toss for the second consecutive time, and for the second time he had no hesitation in putting the opposition in to bat. The Ireland side was unchanged from Tuesday's win over Papua New Guinea, opting to play two spinners again.
In a tactical opening, Porterfield then asked right-arm off-spinner Andy McBrine (two for 45) to open the bowling, denying pace off the pitch in an effort to blunt the attack from West Indies two dangerous left-handed openers, Chris Gayle and Evin Lewis.
However, unlike in the last match it wasn't McBrine who threatened early today, but his fellow opening bowler Tim Murtagh (four for 41). The 36-year-old seamer bowled beautifully, hitting a line and length which stifled the openers scoring rate and beat the bat on a number of occasions.
Murtagh was then joined by tall paceman Boyd Rankin, who replaced McBrine. Rankin, at 6' 7" in height, extracted pace and bounce from the pitch and was rewarded in his first over with the wicket of Lewis with the West Indies on 18.
Murtagh then had the West Indies reeling, taking the wickets of main dangerman Gayle and then the experienced Marlon Samuels for two. The wicket of Samuels was something special, pitching on the off-stump on a perfect line, then moving away off the seam catching the edge of the bat leaving gloveman Niall O'Brien with a simple catch.
Porterfield used his bowlers well, and another tactical switch saw him bring McBrine back into the fray. McBrine duly responded taking the wickets of Shai Hope , and then the important wicket off Shimron Hetmyer who was looking set for a big innings after making 36 from 40 balls. Hetmyer, who scored a century in his last innings, was beginning to flex his muscles before skying a ball to Rankin in the outfield.
Hetmyer's wicket left West Indies languishing at 83 for five in the 19th over, with the Ireland bowling unit looking to press forward the advantage. However, the wicket of Hetmyer brought together Windies skipper Jason Holder and Rovman Powell, who set about a recovery putting on an 86-run partnership in 21 overs.
Holder, who had ended on 99 not out in his last innings, looked confident scoring 54 runs and led from the front. He brought up his half-century with a massive six, but top-edged the next ball, which was caught by his opposite number at extra cover.
Former Leinster CC player Carlos Brathwaite was run out in a mix-up with Powell, a direct hit from Murtagh from mid-on.
Ireland sensed an opportunity, but with the best will in the world could not find a way of stopping an increasingly confident Powell. The 24-year old Jamaican playing only his 19th ODI began to explode, bringing up his 50 in 61 balls, then accelerated to his maiden century, coming up of just 99 balls (seven fours and seven sixes).
Powell's century was the first time a West Indian batsman had scored a century batting at number seven. However, moments after his delighted celebration at reaching his milestone, Powell picked out Gary Wilson in the deep and was dismissed for 101, giving Murtagh his fourth wicket.
Powell, though, had taken West Indies deep into the last over and eventually the innings came to an end with the West Indies on 257-8.
Murtagh was pick of Ireland’s bowlers, taking four wickets in an innings for the second time in his ODI career, but some late hitting dented the figures of other bowlers who had started well and – as a bowling unit – had provided the upper hand to Ireland in the early stages.
With the forecast of rain hanging over the afternoon session, Ireland’s openers came out with the task of getting Ireland off to a solid start, but lost skipper Porterfield in the second over without scoring.
Andrew Balbirnie came to the crease and looked solid, but could only look on when his partner Paul Stirling lost his off-stump to a Kemar Roach special. The ball was delivered wide and angled in to the off-stump, and while Stirling played the line of the ball he was beaten and his stumps knocked back.
To the wicket strode the experienced Ed Joyce, who signalled his intent early by getting off the mark with what could best be described as swat back over the bowler for four. Shortly after Joyce survived a confident appeal for caught behind but this was to be Joyce's only scare as he played an innings of confidence, measure and class.
Despite losing Balbirnie for nine, Joyce and new partner Niall O’Brien set about a positive partnership of 64 runs, steadying the innings and starting to put Ireland back in the game. Niall O’Brien displayed his flashy best with two big sixes, but went to the air one too many times and holed out at deep square leg for 34.
One O’Brien was replaced by another, and older brother Kevin O’Brien picked up where Niall left off and put on a 70-run partnership with Joyce. The partnership saw Ireland well and truly back on track, and even played through light, but steady rain that briefly fell.
With the partnership looking set, Joyce played a flick off his pads on 63 straight to short mid-wicket. The West Indian bowlers felt a chance was there to grab the advantage and duly took the wicket of Kevin O’Brien four balls later for 38 when Roach trapped him in front.
From there the Ireland batsmen tried valiantly, but could not sustain the run rate required, with the final tumble of wickets falling in the push for quick runs.
For the West Indies, paceman Roach was the pick (four for 27) and was ably supported by Kesrick Williams (three for 43) and Holder (two for 44). Holder’s all-round performance topping off a good captaincy performance and underlining his credentials as a star of Caribbean cricket.
“We seemed in a good position, but we didn’t take some of our chances which can cost you in big games,” said Porterfield. “ Those are the things you need, both the luck and to take your chances, to win these types of games.”
The West Indies become and first side in Group A to progress to the Super Six stage, while Ireland will face the UAE on Monday – the winner of that match will progress, while the loser will require a positive result elsewhere to be guaranteed to go through. In Group B, Zimbabwe and Scotland have progressed through to the Super Six stage.
“Every game is important. The UAE game on Monday – it’s two points up for grabs that we can then carry through to Super Sixes,” added Porterfield.
(at Harare Sports Club): West Indies 257-8 (50 ovs) (R Powell 101, J Holder 54; T Murtagh 4-41, A McBrine 2-45), Ireland 205 (46.2 ovs) (E Joyce 63, K O'Brien 38, N O'Brien 34; K Roach 4-27, K Williams 3-43). West Indies won by 52 runs.