Zimbabwe edge Bready thriller as Ireland win T20 series 3-2

Craig Ervine sets up five run victory as hosts fall short in tense chase in Tyrone

Zimbabwe celebrate the wicket of player of the series Paul Stirling. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Zimbabwe celebrate the wicket of player of the series Paul Stirling. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

 

Fifth T20, Bready: Zimbabwe 124-2 off 20 overs (C Ervine 67, D Myers 26; M Adair 3-23) beat Ireland 119 off 20 overs (N Rock 22, P Stirling 19; L Jongwe 3-29) by five runs. Ireland win series 3-2.

Zimbabwe won a last-ball, low-scoring thriller in the final men’s T20 International against Ireland, but the hosts claimed a 3-2 series win.

The tourists won the toss and elected to bat, but struggled from the off, with Mark Adair continuing his fine form with the ball. The seamer has made a happy habit of picking up early wickets, striking with his second and first ball in his second-to-last and last appearances respectively.

He had to wait until his fourth delivery to earn reward, but added a second immediately. Andrew Balbirnie claimed a good catch in the ring to see off Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, while a sharp inswinging yorker was too good for Regis Chakabva first up, striking the wicketkeeper flush on the boot. Adair couldn’t convert the hat-trick opportunity, but Ireland were off to a fine start.

While they would only claim two more wickets in the innings, the tone had been set for a tight bowling display. Wessley Madhevere toiled through the powerplay for little reward before top-edging Josh Little for a 19-ball nine, but Craig Ervine, at the other end, had begun what would end as the ultimate captain’s knock fluently. He cut each of Adair and Little to the boundary before plundering Shane Getkate for 10 runs in two balls, driving him straight for four before swinging handsomely over deep midwicket for six.

He and Dion Myers constructed the game’s defining partnership, scoring 58 runs at almost exactly a run a ball. While the stand contained just five boundaries, they ensured Zimbabwe would at least have something to bowl at.

Milton Shumba attempted some invention after Myers holed out off Adair to Little, flicking creatively over backward point for four, but Ireland bowled tightly, conceding no boundaries in the final two overs, and seemed to have the upper hand at the interval.

Four of the five bowlers used conceded under a run a ball, including Andy McBrine, playing his first T20I since March 2017, but immediately getting to grips with the demands of the shortest format.

Zimbabwe battled back in reply, starting with perhaps the ball of the day from Player of the Match Luke Jongwe to trim Kevin O’Brien’s bails, a sharp off-cutter coming back between bat and pad. Balbirnie’s stay was a short one, worth just four before he edged Donald Tiripano behind, but a memorable one too, the captain overtaking William Porterfield into fourth place on the list of most men’s T20I runs for Ireland.

Paul Stirling, who would go on to be named Player of the Series, seemed to have carried on his same fluent form, smashing a pair of fours and a six in his 13-ball stay, but chipped Jongwe to cover to open the door for Zimbabwe. Harry Tector then edged to slip for nought as Ireland finished the powerplay four down.

William McClintock had hit the last two balls of the first six overs to the rope, to rapturous applause from the home crowd, but fell not long after, top-edging Richard Ngarava to point. Then the fightback began in earnest, with Neil Rock and Getkate putting together Ireland’s biggest partnership of the day. Though it was worth only 36, in a tight game it felt crucial, and so nearly was.

Rock was the early aggressor, chipping down the ground and then towards long-off, neither time attempting to overhit the ball. Getkate then got in on the act, smashing a slower ball back over Tripano’s head for six.

At 85-5, needing 40 runs from the last eight overs, the game seemed Ireland’s to lose, but Zimbabwe wrested back momentum, both set batsmen falling in quick succession. Wellington Masakadza trapped Getkate in front before Rock picked out deep square leg off Jongwe.

The next three overs passed without another wicket falling, but also without a boundary being scored, and as the required rate climbed, the pressure mounted. Eventually it told, McBrine looking for a big shot but finding the fielder deep in the leg-side to give Tiripano a third.

When Adair was run out from the first ball of the penultimate over, the game seemed done. Ireland still needed 18 runs and had just one wicket in hand. But Craig Young and Little ensured one final twist, with Young striking six and a pair of twos to leave nine needed from the last. Little managed three off the first four, leaving Young requiring six off two, and then six off one. But it wasn’t to be. Ngarava held his nerve, and Zimbabwe were the victors.

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