(Pakistan 97 for 3 (Hafeez 52) beat Ireland 96 (Stirling 39, Junaid 4-12, Ajmal 3-7) by seven wickets)
Ireland’s first game since their World Cup heroics proved a disappointment for the 2000 spectators that turned up to see the first of the two-ODI series against Pakistan, who won by seven wickets with more than eight overs to spare. A typically steely grey, showery Belfast day, prevented play from commencing until 2pm. And with conditions helpful to the seamers, Junaid Khan ripped the Ireland middle order apart with four wickets in five overs. A 38-over game was the original plan – and a 36-over one after a short break – but Ireland conspired to reduce it further when they were bowled out in exactly 20 overs.
The total of 96 was pitiful – Ireland’s lowest since the 2007 World Cup Super Eights – especially after Paul Stirling had thrilled the home fans with a startling innings of 39 off just 22 balls. Stirling, 20, who also plays for Middlesex, had finished off his World Cup with a match-winning 100 off 71 balls against Netherlands, and was on a similar trajectory here as he helped himself to seven fours and a six.
His opening partner was Ed Joyce, who switched places in the order with William Porterfield. Joyce had been keen to move up during the World Cup, but coach Phil Simmons resisted changing an established opening pair. But Porterfield was soon replacing Joyce, dismissed by Tanvir Ahmed.
Stirling took a liking to Tanvir, who bowled too short. His next over went for 19, including an enormous six over mid-on. Stirling took 12 off Umar Gul’s next over, and clipped Junaid’s first ball to the boundary when he came on to bowl the sixth over. Four balls later he was gone, skying the ball to cover where Mohammed Hafeez sprinted 20 yards, and dived full length. From 44 for 1, Ireland steadily lost wickets as Junaid made good use of the seaming conditions.
Alex Cusack, promoted to No.4 in the absence of the injured Niall O’Brien, was bowled in the last over of the Powerplay, which yielded 49 runs and three wickets. Porterfield followed for 4, caught behind trying to fend off a rising ball from Gul. Kevin O’Brien, having exchanged his dyed pink hair for his natural orange, gave his fans a small taste of his World Cup pyrotechnics. But, on 15, he tried to cart Junaid through the covers and saw his stumps demolished.
Soon enough, Ireland were floundering at 66 for 6. Gary Wilson, who replaced Niall O’Brien behind the stumps, briefly showed his World Cup batting form before the rain returned. After a 20-minute break the innings was recalculated as 36 overs. But there was little chance as many overs would be required; the Ireland batsmen failed to cope with a disciplined attack in tricky conditions. Saeed Ajmal claimed 3 for 7 off his three overs, including Trent Johnston and Boyd Rankin off successive balls. Younis Khan, who had taken two wickets in his previous 221 ODIs, induced John Mooney to carve to cover and a three-figure score proved beyond Ireland.
Rankin and Johnston bowled nine overs before the interval, which were negotiated safely by Taufeeq Umar and Mohammed Hafeez. Hafeez’s six into the trees at square leg off Rankin gave the large Pakistani contingent more to sing about. The openers continued steadily towards their target after tea, and had made it to 73 when Stirling took a sharp catch at slip off Cusack.
Cusack’s gentle medium-pace fetched him three wickets but Ireland had too little on the board, and the end came with 8.3 overs to spare.
“We’ve let a lot of people down today”, Porterfield admitted. “We played too many poor shots on that wicket, nobody got their head down to forge a partnership. It wasn’t a gung-ho situation, but too many of the batsmen made poor decisions.”
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq was happy with the result, his first success in his new phase as ODI captain, achieved in conditions vastly different to those they experienced four days earlier on the other side of the North Atlantic. It was some measure of revenge for the only previous ODI meeting between the sides, the famous Ireland victory at Sabina Park in the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup. A small group of Pakistan fans chanted “No more Ijaz Butt” during the presentation ceremony. The Man-of-the-Match award was deservedly picked up by Junaid.