Half-centuries from Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie, preceded by four-wicket hauls for Josh Little and Craig Young, were more than enough to steer Ireland to a comfortable eight-wicket victory over the Netherlands on Friday, levelling their Super League series in Utrecht with one match left to play.
Irish skipper Balbirnie predicted before the first game on Wednesday that Stirling and Little would prove to be Ireland’s match winners, but Young has proved to be almost equally significant with the ball, while Balbirnie’s steadiness after Stirling’s departure on Friday was vital for his side’s win.
Both sides went into the second game unchanged, but the same could not be said for the Maarschalkerweerd pitch; the inconsistency of bounce which had troubled batters on the first day had morphed into a degree of unpredictability which had batters and bowlers at times sharing a grim smile at the sheer randomness of it all.
Its venomous character was fully apparent as early as the sixth over, in which Young had Stef Myburgh almost doubled up defending a series of deliveries which skidded through. It’s fair to say that Ireland’s attack was much more effective in exploiting the conditions than the Dutch would later prove to be.
Myburgh and Max O’Dowd did well enough negotiating the initial exchanges, and it was again the introduction of Little into the attack which secured the breakthrough, the left-armer inducing Myburgh to play on and then, with his next ball, getting Ben Cooper to edge a lifting delivery to keeper Lorcan Tucker.
Four overs later he made it three, angling one in on O’Dowd and clipping the off stump. The Netherlands were 58 for three, and once again teetering on the brink.
Bas de Leede and Pieter Seelaar batted for nearly nine overs, adding 27 runs, De Leede in particular showing both resilience and intent. But when Young returned to remove Seelaar and, four balls later, Andrew McBrine trapped De Leede in front as he attempted an ungainly hoick to leg, much of their good work had been undone.
Scott Edwards arrived determined to counter-attack, quickly hitting three boundaries off McBrine and Little, but then the Dutch suffered a stroke of misfortune as Saqib Zulfiqar pulled a hamstring taking a single, and after battling on for an over was forced to retire.
No sooner had he hobbled from the field than Edwards fell to Young, Tucker’s third victim behind the stumps, and he soon added a fourth, again off Young, as Timm van der Gugten was unable to repeat Wednesday’s heroics. Little removed Klaassen, and at 118 for eight the Netherlands seemed almost down and out.
But Brandon Glover helped Logan van Beek add 30 for the ninth wicket, and after he departed, giving Barry McCarthy his first wicket of the series, Zulfiqar returned to aid Van Beek eke out the score in the final overs.
He was, however, utterly unable to run, and although Van Beek managed a couple of boundaries Young eventually put an end to his misery with the total on 157, four balls before the scheduled close of the innings.
Young, again a master of hostile control, finished with four for 18, while Little, surgical remover of the top order, had four for 39.
Even on this minefield it never seemed likely to be enough, even after Van Beek had speared one between William Porterfield’s bat and pad and into his stumps, but by that time Stirling had already cracked him twice to the boundary as demonstration of the fact that he, at least, was not in awe of the conditions.
Klaassen, in particular, bowled with exemplary accuracy but it was wickets the Dutch needed, and despite some uncomfortable moments Stirling and Balbirnie were equal to the challenge, adding 82 in the highest partnership of the series to date.
The home side fought hard in the field, but with no scoreboard pressure the Irish batters could afford to defend when necessary, pushing singles and waiting for the ball to hit.
These came along too often for Seelaar’s liking, but he again achieved a crucial breakthrough himself when, with the total of 91, he persuaded Stirling to play a rare false shot, and Myburgh accepted an easy catch.The Irish opener had made 52, bringing his tally in his last five ODI innings to 406.
No further breakthrough followed: Harry Tector joined his captain in picking off the remaining runs, and although Klaassen, Seelaar and Max O’Dowd were largely able to keep the scoring within modest bounds, Ireland were in no great hurry to complete their chase.
Balbirnie reached his own half-century with a boundary off Seelaar with eleven still needed, and three overs later he hit another to finish with 63 as his side cruised home with seven overs to spare.
The Dutch had been comprehensively outplayed, and somehow Ryan Campbell and Gary Kirsten will need to find ways for their side to make more runs if they are to have any chance of taking the series on Monday.
The groundsmen, meanwhile, will be aiming to ensure that Monday’s pitch offers a more equal contest between bat and ball.
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