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Old hand Paul Stirling delivers when it matters as Ireland knock out West Indies


It is a little-known fact that Ireland stalwart Paul Stirling, now in the 15th year of his international cricket career, is the fifth-highest runscorer in the history of T20 internationals. He is one of just six men to cross the 3,000-run mark in the format and is ahead of the likes of Aaron Finch and David Warner on the leaderboard.

Through his unbeaten 48-ball 66 against West Indies on Friday, he gave another reminder of his class, and fired Ireland to the Super 12 in what was the biggest upset of the T20 World Cup. West Indies, the two-time champions, exit the tournament with just one win in three games of the Group stage.

That Paul Stirling is one of Irish cricket’s all-time greats is hardly up for debate, but there were criticisms of his form coming into the tournament. Prior to Friday, he had scored just one 50+ score in T20Is throughout the year, and his average had dipped to 21.77 in 23 innings. In T20 World Cups too, Stirling has largely underperformed, with just one fifty and an average of 18.84 in 15 innings.

Stirling, one of the disappointments of Ireland’s early exit at the World Cup last year, corrected that by playing a leading role in one of the more important run chases of his career. The 32-year-old went after the West Indies bowling attack in the powerplay in a manner that was made to look impossible by the opposition top order’s tame performance in Hobart in the previous innings.

As they took control of the run chase, Stirling showed off more maturity and experience as well, keeping cool after the wicket of Andy Balbirnie and standing firm alongside Locran Tucker to round out the total of 146 with more than two overs to spare.

His attacking batting featured excellent manipulation of the crease and footwork, as well as his signature shotmaking ability – by making room for himself on the leg side and going after the quicks by hitting square on the off side.

More importantly, however, he gave Ireland a long overdue match-winning performance in a high-pressure situation at a World Cup.

Vindication of new approach

In January, Ireland cricket hired Heinrich Malan as their new head coach. In tandem with captain Balbernie, his priority was to lead the charge to change the way the team approached T20 cricket, to employ a more aggressive mindset, and to depend less on individual performances and more on the team’s collective performance.

Ireland’s qualification to the Super12, and their win over West Indies in particular, shows how the approach may be coming alive, despite the team losing 9 of their last 12 T20Is prior to the World Cup.

Even though Stirling was the star of the run chase, their win over West Indies, after barely staying alive in the tournament thanks to George Dockrell and Curtis Campher’s match-winning partnership against Scotland, was a team effort. Balbernie’s 37 of 23 balls played a crucial role in dismantling the Windies’ bowling attack early in the run chase, and was representative of Ireland’s aggressive mindset. Tucker’s measured innings avoided any lapses at the death.

The side’s run chase was measured and fierce at once, with the kind of aggression that Malan always set out to instil, but it was set up thanks to the effectiveness of the bowling attack which has embraced youth. Leg spinner Gareth Delaney was the pick of the lot – not only was his 3-16 the best bowling spell of the day, but in taking the wickets of Evin Lewis, Nicholas Pooran, and Rovman Powell, he dismantled the Caribbean side’s chance to go for it in the middle overs.

For West Indies, barring Brandon King’s 48-ball 62, there is not much of saving grace. Their batting lineup capitulated for the second time in three matches, captain Pooran’s decisions are under the scanner, and their bowling failed to have the zip that was expected. They have now won just two of eight T20 World Cup matches since they lifted a second title in 2016, and while the personnel may have changed, many of the same problems persist.

Against Ireland on Friday, the side’s new positive approach, aggression on the field, and starring performances from Stirling and Delany, proved to be too much for the Windies, who may need a transformation of their own.





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