Until around the 12th over of the second innings of their match against Scotland, this Ireland team couldn’t do a good impression of a T20 side. But inspired by that partnership for the ages, they put on an absolute clinic led by some of their loyal old guard to lock in their place at the big table.
On a fresh cut strip two lanes to the east of the one used on Monday and Wednesday, Nicholas Pooran chose to bat. There’s been no clear pattern with toss wins in this tournament, but we have learned that Bellerive Oval can and does change its complexion even within the short durations of a 20 over game. Many captains had called incorrectly thus far.
But if there was an intention of an opening blitz to take advantage of good batting conditions, with the clouds looming and clear skies not rumoured to last, it did not materialise. The out of form Mayers popped a simple catch to mid-off from Barry McCarthy, who was showing some rare control and economy for the first time in the tournament. Attempted golden arm Curtis Campher did go the distance from his two overs, first from Johnson Charles then from Brandon King, but good control from McCarthy and Josh Little kept the run rate in check.
It was the spin of Simi Singh that brought the next wicket, and nearly a double, as he got Charles to cut to point before putting down a tough return catch from King. And it would be spin to follow with the breakthroughs. Gareth Delany hasn’t enjoyed his time in Hobart too much, being cleared at over 9 an over in both appearances, neither of which contained a completed four overs. It’s a story known all too well by leg spinners, who range between unhittable and very, very hittable, often on the same day.
With the strip moved over by two, the legside boundary was elongated from the Church Street end, meaning that when Rovman Powell finally connected with an aimless slog sweep, it could only sail as far as Harry Tector near the fence. Delany closed out with three dots to the fresh Odean Smith, completing a remarkable turnaround of 3/16 from his overs.
Brandon King was still going though, and even as some strong defensive bowling came in from Little and Mark Adair, him and Smith managed to find the fence regularly enough to amble West Indies to a solid total. And by finding the fence, I mean clearing it, often by over 20 metres. Two from Smith and one from King all rocked into the back decks, but the inability to run singles between big knocks limited the damage. A contentious non-wide on the final ball also gave Ireland a boost, but a total of 146 was nothing to sniff at, and Ireland’s batting out with the Campher-Dockrell partnership against Scotland has left much to be desired.
After Wednesday’s 18-run horror show from Kyle Mayers, he would not be retaining his double-opener role. Instead Obed McCoy came in, and immediately had the out of form Stirling wafting. On his third waft, the edge was found, but only to fly to the fence fortuitously. The following over from Akeal Hossein, Stirling found fortune from two consecutive floaters above the inner circle, both landing in no man’s land for doubles. Having not had any luck so far, maybe this was his day?
But it was Andy Balbirnie, also under a bit of a form cloud, that began the attack. A flat swept six off Hossein was followed by 14 runs from Odean Smith’s first three balls, including another effortless six to the long boundary. An over later, he repeated the trick, this time with it on his off side. Before anyone had time to think, the required rate was pennies and Ireland still had all ten wickets in hand.
It’s hard to say exactly when the West Indies began to check out, but as Nicholas Pooran shunted his troops for the beginning of the seventh over, the scoreboard read 64/0 and there were more double-teapots in the field than chances. When Balbirnie finally made an error and cut Akeal Hossein to point, there was no celebration.
Lorcan Tucker came in and steadied the pace, realising that the goal was achievable at a run a ball. Milking the strike and knocking around singles, he deflated the West Indies fielders even further, meanwhile Stirling continued in his old ways, flaying a ball into the safe hands of a young lad in the grass embankment. A chance was created, and taken, as Odean Smith caught a pop up of his own creation. But then it was destroyed, as Tector was recalled from his march to the pavilion by the umpires. A no-ball by mere millimeters. It was possible at that point to feel like the West Indies were hard done by, but even with the wicket, the game was gone.
The finish was more of an amble than an explosion, as calls from the Ireland faithful to “hit a six” once the target was within that number were met with tapped singles. Explosive end or no, the result was damning. Set up by a shrewd spell from Gareth Delany, Ireland never looked in trouble for a second during the chase, and despite looking out of sorts for the first 1.8 games in this tournament, they now look to be firing on most of their cylinders.