IRE vs ZIM, 3rd T20I – Review: Paul Stirling ton leads Ireland to victory over Zimbabwe

The two sides meet again at the same venue tomorrow at 3pm for the fourth match of the series, with Ireland leading 2-1.

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Paul Stirling
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Paul Stirling. (Photo Source: Ireland Cricket)

Before today, the hard-hitting opener had brought up his fifty 18 times in the shortest international format without ever bringing up three figures. It was 19th time lucky, with Stirling finishing unbeaten on 115, his 75-ball knock containing eight fours and eight sixes.

His immense contribution to Irish cricket was also highlighted by his movement up the all-time men’s T20I run charts. Having started the day in ninth position, he overtook Australia’s David Warner and Pakistan’s Shoaib Malik during the course of his innings. He rose to seventh place, with England captain Eoin Morgan, 17 runs ahead, next in his sights.

Stirling took his time to get set and assess the conditions before launching in scintillating style. Though he got off the mark with a slog-swept six from his fourth ball, he was content to wait for his moment, playing out a maiden of Richard Ngarava as he dominated the strike early on – it took until the fourth over for Kevin O’Brien to finally face a ball.

The 37-year-old came into the game in fine form, having struck 60 in Ireland’s series-levelling win in the second T20I, and he looked determined to make up for lost time, pulling Tendai Chatara for six off his third ball. Stirling added another pulled six in the next over, and the pair looked set for a customary mammoth stand, but O’Brien’s dismissal, caught at mid-off attempting a big shot from the penultimate ball of the powerplay, briefly put the brakes on Ireland’s effort.

A pair of Stirling boundaries in the next over, Ryan Burl’s first, wrested back some momentum, but he and captain Andrew Balbirnie were happy to set a platform. After 11 overs the pair were scoring at just over and just under a run a ball respectively, with Ireland’s run rate just under six. What followed was extraordinary.

Stirling bringing up fifty with a lofted drive off Burl seemed to signal a change in approach. He swept Wellington Masakadza fine for four before Balbirnie slog-swept for six, with a pair of fours from the skipper off Luke Jongwe in the next over keeping the runs flowing. Stirling then went straight down the ground, with a checked follow-through still sending the ball way back over the sightscreen.

Balbirnie picked out the man on the deep point rope, departing for 31, but by now there was no stopping Stirling. Shane Getkate started quickly, striking his third and fourth balls for four, but in general he was content to hand to strike to Stirling and watch the carnage unfold from the non-striker’s end.

Even with two overs to go, it was open to debate whether Stirling would have time to reach three figures. But so brilliantly did he pace his innings that he careered past the landmark in the penultimate over, ending with a flourish. The 19th over was plundered for 25 runs, Stirling striking two sixes and two fours, interspersed with a pair of wides, and reaching three figures with an ambled single to deep square leg. He celebrated in trademark understated style, with a gentle raise of the bat and the helmet staying in place. There was work still to be done, and he finished the innings with 10 runs off the last two balls.

In all, 66 runs had been taken off the last four overs. Stirling’s hundred – the third by an Ireland player in T20Is after Kevin O’Brien’s hundred against Hong Kong in 2019 and Gaby Lewis’ century against Germany at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Europe Region Qualifier last week – was the second-longest in the format by any player, one ball behind Aaron Finch’s 76-ball 172, also against Zimbabwe in 2018.

A disciplined bowling performance meant Zimbabwe never came close to chasing down the target. Stirling was given the new ball, but travelled for 14 as Wessley Madhevere struck him for three consecutive boundaries, but Mark Adair, one of three changes to the side, struck with his second delivery, Balbirnie claiming the catch at mid-off. Josh Little, another player recalled, also struck in his first over, and in similar fashion, a miscue finding the hands of Balbirnie close in on the off-side.

The required rate remained just out of reach of the tourists, though they battled gamely. Their struggles are perhaps best shown by the fact that no partnership lasted longer than three overs. Ben White, bowling stump to stump, struck twice through the middle, Regis Chakabva dismissed lbw and Milton Shumba bowled after missing a slog-sweep. The others in the middle order fell to Shane Getkate, with Dion Myers holing out to O’Brien at long on and Craig Ervine, Zimbabwe’s captain, seventh to fall, bowled leg stump.

Adair and Little cleaned up the tail, the former ending with three wickets and the latter with two, and the final wicket coming via a run-out. Stirling was named Player of the Match, with victory secured by 40 runs.

The two sides meet again at the same venue tomorrow at 3pm for the fourth match of the series, with Ireland leading 2-1.

Ireland v Zimbabwe 3rd T20I Brief Scores

Ireland 178-2 (20 overs; P Stirling 115*, A Balbirnie 31; R Burl 1-30)

Zimbabwe 138 (18.2 overs; C Ervine 33; M Adair 3-11, J Little 2-18)

Ireland won by 40 runs (Ireland lead series 2-1)

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