Why the victory over England in the 3rd ODI is a watershed moment for Irish cricket

Why the victory over England in the 3rd ODI is a watershed moment for Irish cricket

They are not a side that can be taken lightly anymore and will continue to give the top sides a scare in the future.

Andrew Balbirnie
Andrew Balbirnie. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Kevin O’ Brien pulled the ball to deep square leg to complete a very significant single in Irish cricket history. The single allowed Ireland to chase down a mammoth target of 329 runs, the joint highest by the Ireland side ever in ODI cricket (they had chased down 329 against England in 2011) and stun England in their own backyard.

Nine years ago in Bangalore, Kevin O’ Brien was the architect of the victory over the same opposition. He was the man who had plundered the England bowling attack to shreds, scored a brilliant century in the 2011 World Cup and inspired them to a famous victory. But, on 4th August 2020, at Southampton, the Irish veteran played a subservient role, as the center stage was taken by two of his teammates– Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie.

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The mammoth partnership between Stirling and Balbirnie

Paul Sterling
Paul Sterling. (Photo Source: Getty Images)

Ireland was faced with the daunting task of chasing down a target of 329, and Paul Stirling was positive in his approach right from the word go. The opener opened his account with a gorgeous drive past cover off David Willey off the third ball of the innings that raced to the boundary.

Stirling tore into Saqib Mahmood in the 8th over of the innings. The stocky right-hander pulled Mahmood over mid-wicket for six, and when the bowler went fuller the next delivery, Stirling got onto the front foot and smacked him in the same direction for another massive six into the stands.

And, after the departure of Gareth Delany at the other end, skipper Balbirnie joined Stirling in the middle. Balbirnie played some delightful shots, with the drive past extra cover being the icing on the cake, and gave wonderful company to Stirling.

The two Irish batsmen never allowed the England bowlers a sniff and built a partnership that will be talked about in Irish cricketing folklore with a sense of pride in the years to come. Even when the wily Adil Rashid was introduced into the attack, Stirling continued to put the spinner under pressure. He was not afraid to unleash the sweep shot from his repertoire when Rashid flighted the cherry to him, and this aggressive approach from Stirling rendered Rashid ineffective.

Balbirnie’s innings was about deft touches and piercing the gaps. When the ball was dropped short, Balbirnie rocked onto the back foot and played the ball late, and when the bowlers went full, he transferred his weight onto the front foot and played some gorgeous drives through the offside. And, by the time Stirling departed for a classy 142 after an unfortunate run out, Ireland were only 65 runs away from the finish line with as many as 8 wickets in hand.

And, the experienced Kevin O’ Brien and the talented Harry Tector finished the job for their side.

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Brave decisions taken by Andrew Balbirnie

Harry Tector
Harry Tector. (Photo Source: Getty Images)

The Irish skipper should also be lauded for some brave decisions that he took. He was not afraid to make a veteran like William Porterfield sit out of the series, to give opportunities to a youngster like Delany. Also, Balbirnie went for the left-arm pace of 20-year-old Josh Little over the experience of Boyd Rankin. Little picked up 5 wickets in the two games that he played and reposed the faith that the captain had on him.

In fact, there was just one player in the Irish playing XI in the third ODI who was above 35 years of age(Kevin O’Brien). Balbirnie backed the youngsters like Little and Curtis Campher and they rose to the occasion.

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A victory to remember for Irish cricket

The match at Southampton was indeed a watershed moment for Ireland. Not only did it allow them to score a victory over world champions England, but it also gave them the self-belief that they are ready to compete on the big stage.

They are not a side that can be taken lightly anymore and will continue to give the top sides a scare in the future. And, the two men who infused the self-belief into the side and were at the forefront of the special triumph at Southampton were Stirling and Balbirnie.