Stirling and Balbirnie bag half-centuries as Ireland see off Hong Kong
Ireland get off to winning start in T20 World Cup qualifier in Abu Dhabi
Ireland’s Mark Adair bowling during the T20 World Cup qualifier against Hong Kong at the Sheikh Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi. Photograph: ICC
Half-centuries from Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie got Ireland off to a winning start at the T20 World Cup Qualifier in Abu Dhabi as they proved too strong for a Hong Kong side coached by former Ireland skipper Trent Johnston.
Set a target of 154 on a boiling hot day at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Ireland got off to the worst possible start hen the in-form Kevin O’Brien was run out without facing a ball.
Stirling, who recently committed himself to Ireland by ending his career with Middlesex, attacked from the off, hitting the first ball of the reply for six.
Stirling and Balbirnie went on to add 86 runs in 10 overs to take the game away from Hong Kong before Stirling departed for 62 from just 36 balls, hitting wight fours and two sixes.
It would be the last wicket Ireland lost as Balbirnie and YMCA teenager Harry Tector got Ireland home with 16 balls to spare to secure an eight-wicket victory.
Balbirnie finished unbeaten on 70 off 53 balls, with eight fours included, while Tector hit two fours in his 21 not out.
Earlier, Kinchit Shah starred with the bat for Hong Kong, making 79 off 54 balls, with Ireland’s bowlers helping restrict their opponents late in the innings.
Despite the comfortable nature of the win, Ireland skipper Gary Wilson admitted his side were not in top gear.
“I don’t think we played our best cricket, to be honest,” said Wilson. “The pitch played a lot slower than we had hoped. We had to go to our cutters early, which we found to be effective. We’ve learned a lot, and we still have three more games to play in this stadium, so it’s great to win a game when we feel we haven’t played our best.”
Wilson also praised his senior top-order batsmen for getting the side home without too much fuss.
“A clinical chase from the boys, I thought Paul [Stirling] was excellent, and Andrew [Balbirnie] has been doing that for us for the last number of years. He’s probably not your belligerent T20 batter you’re used to seeing around the world, but his strike rate is right up there just from playing good cricket shots.”
Boyd Rankin finished his four-over spell without a wicket, but Wilson was quick to point out the veteran’s contribution after he went for just 18 runs.
“Boyd was outstanding, I think that should be the prototype bowling we’ll aim for,” said Wilson. “We spoke halfway through the innings that we were too full with the ball, but if you look at Boydy with the way his lengths were, I don’t think he went for a boundary in his four overs, and that should be the prototype for the lengths of our balls going forward.”
Ireland are in action again on Saturday when they take on hosts United Arab Emirates at the same venue, a game Wilson is not looking beyond.
“We look to our next game against the UAE, if we play our best cricket then we’ll be okay. If we aren’t at our best, then these other teams are good enough to beat us. It’s a case of a thinking a game at a time, if you look too far ahead in these tournaments you can come unstuck.”
Hong Kong 153-5 (20 ovs) K Shah 79; M Adair 2-22), Ireland 155-2 (17.2 ovs) (A Balbirnie 70no, P Stirling 62, J Tector 21no). Ireland won by 8 wkts.