Ireland started their 3rd ICC Cricket World Cup campaign with a bang as they chased down more than 300 against the West Indies with plenty to spare. It placed the venue Nelson into the same consciousness as Jamaica and Bangalore for Irish cricket fans who showed their intent again on the world’s biggest stage.
For years now, Ireland had punched above its weight, pulling off stunning upsets more than once, but, on this occasion, right from the first ball of the game, till the moment when the winning runs were scored, there wasn’t one Ireland player with any self doubt. The manner in which Ireland set the pace against a team that could so easily have bossed it over on another day, showed just how good it really is.
ALL OVER! Ireland have done it for the 3rd World Cup in a row with a big upset as they beat West Indies by 4 Wickets pic.twitter.com/yElfTcehma— ICC (@ICC) February 16, 2015
And this was no fluke, in that the conditions were not stacked especially in Ireland’s favour, and West Indies did not take its opponents lightly.
To start with, Ireland made the most of winning the toss, John Mooney and Max Sorensen doing just enough with the ball to keep Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith quiet.
Building pressure seldom fails to deliver results, and Smith was the first to succumb, holing out to long off against Kevin O’Brien. Darren Bravo was sent on his way, courtesy a direct hit from point, before he had even faced a ball, and the wobble was well and truly on at 31 for 2.
For a time, Gayle defied, but scoring at a strike rate of just over 55 brought about impatience and the left-arm spin of George Dockrell proved too much temptation to resist. The heave over cow corner failed to boom off the bat and Kevin O’Brien settled under a comfortable catch.
Two balls later, Marlon Samuels was pinned to the crease by Dockrell and even a review could not save him from being declared lbw. Denesh Ramdin suffered a similar fate in Dockrell’s next over, and Ireland was swarming all over West Indies with the scoreboard reading 87 for 5.
If Ireland sensed it was on the verge of something special, it was dragged back down to earth by a stirring rearguard action from Darren Sammy and Lendl Simmons. With overs in hand, Sammy and Simmons built a partnership from scratch, taking their time to absorb the conditions and line up the bowling. Slowly gaining momentum till they had done enough to push the score past 200, both Sammy and Simmons cut loose.
Sammy brought up his half-century off only 45 balls, and Simmons matched his partner, reaching the milestone off 62 balls with a straight six off Kevin O’Brien. After the pair had taken West Indies past the 200-run mark, the big shots became more and more frequent, and convincing.
If Sammy was brutally effective in his hitting, Simmons was utterly easy on the eye when he drove through cover, oozing flair. The 43rd over, bowled by Kevin O’Brien, was taken for 22, and Ireland would have sensed the tide turning. When Sammy pulled Mooney for a flat six to get to 89, he had posted his highest One-Day International score, and looked set for a well-deserved century. But, trying to clear cow corner, Sammy found Dockrell, ending a 154-run stand that equalled the West Indian record for the sixth wicket.
Simmons showed his full range of shots, from the rasping cut to the meaty pull, and did not even break stride when he neared three figures, clattering a full toss to the midwicket fence in the final over to bring up the landmark. Simmons’s century had come off only 83 balls, with his second fifty taking just 23 balls.
If Ireland was deflated at having to chase 305 when even 200 looked far away at the halfway mark of the first innings, it did not show in the least. William Porterfield and Paul Stirling raced out of the blocks, using the pace of the West Indian bowlers to maximum effect. Stirling did the bulk of the scoring, and when Porterfield (23) was dismissed with 71 on the board, there was no change in tempo.
Stirling, who was clocked on the helmet by Jerome Taylor, responded by hooking the next short ball that came his way for six, such was the confidence. Only 24, Stirling attacked with perfect shot selection and unbridled joy. Cutting without hesitation, driving with balance, pulling with alacrity, Stirling rained nine fours and three sixes on West Indies’ party, lifting Ireland to 177 before he fell eight short of a fairytale hundred.
Where Stirling left off, Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien took over. The runs came at such a clip that the third-wicket stand of 96 came off only 11.3 overs. When Joyce (84) fell, holing out to the deep, the chase had been set up, and only the finishing touches needed to be applied. Four batsmen fluffed their lines in stage fright, but Niall O’Brien kept his head, and his wicket, ending unbeaten on 79 as Ireland got home with four wickets and 25 balls to spare.
The party, it was fair to say, was just about to get started.