Stir­ling and Bal­birnie hero­ics set up Eng­land shock

➤ Shades of Ban­ga­lore as Ire­land chase down 329 tar­get ➤ Tec­tor and O’Brien fin­ish job af­ter two stun­ning cen­turies

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Cricket - One-day In­ter­na­tional By Tim Wig­more

Per­haps it was fated. In Ban­ga­lore nine years ago, Ire­land chased down 329 to seal an epic World Cup win over Eng­land. At the Ageas Bowl, Eng­land set them the same tar­get. And un­der the flood­lights at 10 to 10, Kevin O’Brien – whose cen­tury had slain Eng­land in Ban­ga­lore – calmly swat­ted Saqib Mah­mood away to seal Ire­land’s sec­ond ever vic­tory over Eng­land.

While it fell to O’Brien to seal the chase with a clin­i­cal un­beaten 21, this was a vic­tory au­thored by two mag­nif­i­cent cen­turies from Paul Stir­ling and Andy Bal­birnie, whose 214-run sec­ond-wicket stand un­der­pinned this stun­ning chase.

Af­ter Eoin Mor­gan’s own ter­rific cen­tury ear­lier in the day, the third one-day in­ter­na­tional was a tale of three Ir­ish cen­turies.

From Sabina Park against Pak­istan in the 2007 World Cup to the re­mark­able heist against Eng­land in Ban­ga­lore in 2011 and non­cha­lantly hunt­ing down 305 against West Indies in the 2015 World Cup, Ir­ish cricket’s great­est vic­to­ries have come while chas­ing.

They are wolves, born to chase, not be chased. The gut­tural roar that greeted O’Brien’s blow spoke of the sig­nif­i­cance of this win – their first over a top-eight na­tion in ODI cricket for five years and first ever away to a top-eight team con­sti­tuted vin­di­ca­tion for Bal­birnie’s bold cap­taincy and faith in his young team.

“We ab­so­lutely thought we could chase it, we just knew we had to bat well up top,” said Bal­birnie, whose side leave Eng­land hav­ing lost the three-match Royal Lon­don se­ries 2-1, but with Ir­ish cricket em­bold­ened once more.

While Bal­birnie, with 113, O’Brien and young Harry Tec­tor – who walked off un­beaten on 29 – could all toast their deeds, Stir­ling’s in­nings will be the stuff of in­stant le­gend.

His tal­ent has al­ways been ap­par­ent – in­clud­ing to Mor­gan, who pro­claimed him good enough to fol­low his route and play for Eng­land seven years ago. In the past three years he has found in­creased con­sis­tency, av­er­ag­ing 40 in ODIs.

But this in­nings marked an an­nounce­ment of the full pos­si­bil­i­ties of Stir­ling’s game. There is a stun­ning non­cha­lance and a won­der­ful pu­rity of method. This was de­tectable in con­sec­u­tive sixes off Mah­mood in the eighth over of Ire­land’s chase: first Stir­ling pulled a short ball over square leg, then he flicked a fuller ball to the same lo­ca­tion for an­other six.

Adil Rashid loomed as Ire­land’s big­gest threat in the chase. Stir­ling showed the range of his game by slog-sweep­ing three em­phatic sixes, mean­ing that Rashid could not con­trol the mid­dle overs.

Stir­ling forged a bril­liant al­liance with Bal­birnie, who also show­cased his dex­ter­ity against spin, sweep­ing both in front of and be­hind square and fi­ness­ing late cuts. To­gether, they shared a record Ir­ish sec­ond­wicket stand of 214 that threat­ened to turn the chase of 329 into a breezy waltz.

Per­haps it was never go­ing to be that way. When he had 142, Stir­ling charged down for an op­ti­mistic sin­gle when the ball went be­hind square and was run out. And then, af­ter reach­ing his own maiden cen­tury against Eng­land, Bal­birnie per­ished try­ing to clear long-off in Rashid’s fi­nal over.

Eng­land’s in­nings had also been dom­i­nated by an Ir­ish­man. En­ter­ing in his cus­tom­ary role at No4, af­ter shuf­fling down to six in the first two ODIs, Mor­gan came in with his team in strife: 14 for two, which soon be­came 44 for three af­ter James Vince got an in­side edge to a de­liv­ery from Craig Young.

Mor­gan’s ap­proach was to counter-at­tack. Some had thought that he would re­tire af­ter the elixir of Eng­land’s World Cup tri­umph last sum­mer.

In­stead, Mor­gan has re­sponded by play­ing the best cricket of his life: he en­joyed a mag­nif­i­cent win­ter for Eng­land in Twenty20, pro­pel­ling him back into the In­dian Premier League.

On this ev­i­dence, Stir­ling could soon join him there.

Lead­ing from the front: Paul Stir­ling hits out dur­ing his re­mark­able knock of 142 from 128 de­liv­er­ies to help Ire­land to a fa­mous vic­tory

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