Ireland men’s cricket team’s first T20I outing of the year ended in a 1-2 series loss to hosts Zimbabwe in front of a near capacity crowd at the Harare Sports Club.
Despite the loss, Ireland had plenty of positives to draw on as the series ensured every member of the 14-man squad got game time in the absence of incumbents Paul Stirling, Josh Little and Lorcan Tucker.
Harry Tector finished the series as the second-highest run-scorer with 78 runs and the most economical bowler with his off-spin conceding just 4.41 runs an over. Ross Adair stepped up in the second game with a match-winning half-century and Graham Hume produced the best bowling figures (3-17) by any bowler in the series.
The lack of game time since the T20 World Cup in October was apparent as Ireland, inserted to bat first in the first T20I, were bowled out for 114 with four balls unused. Having lost three wickets in the powerplay and being reduced to 74-8 at one point, it seemed the visitors would struggle to go past the three-digit mark had it not been for Gareth Delany’s 20-ball 24. On a dry surface, spinners Ryan Burl and Wellington Masakadza shared five wickets to see off the Irish middle-order.
In response, Mark Adair and Harry Tector struck early but patient knocks from Sean Williams (34*) and former England cricketer, Gary Ballance (30), saw the hosts over the line with two overs to spare.
Two days later, the visitors produced an all-round performance to level the series with a six-wicket win and force a decider. Having opted to field first, the Irish bowlers leaked runs in the first half of the Zimbabwean innings but clawed their way back by snaring as many as six wickets for 34 runs while conceding just a solitary boundary.
Graham Hume was the pick of the bowlers with figures of 3-17 to bowl Zimbabwe out for 144 and also managed to pick up his maiden T20I wicket, that of the Zimbabwean captain Craig Ervine.
In Stirling’s absence, opener Ross Adair registered his maiden half-century in just his second International appearance to spearhead the chase. The former rugby backthree player, who won a senior appearance for Ulster against the Dragons in 2015, showed his power-hitting class in a 65-run knock that featured two fours and four sixes.
Adair heeded Balbirnie’s advice to get his eye in and capitalise later on in the innings. Circumspect against the new ball, his first 23 balls did not yield a boundary but struck as many as six boundaries, including four sixes, off his next 24 deliveries to turn the tide in Ireland’s favour. Tector played second fiddle in a 59-run partnership, scoring 26 off 21 balls, before George Dockrell sealed the win in the last over with a six over long off.
“Massively important knock for me. I’m fighting for a place and I just wanted to create a positive impression,” Adair said after the game.
“We had a chat after the first game and said how we need to assess the conditions a bit better and it felt like I could do that. I know I’m not going to be able to strike at 170 or 180 all the time. Sometimes, you have to dine at 140. Hopefully, there’s a spot up for grabs.”
With a turnaround of less than a day for either side to clinch the series, local boy Ryan Burl turned out to be the hometown hero in yet another player-of-the-match display.
Ireland made as many as three changes to a winning combination by bringing in leg-spinner Ben White, Rush wicketkeeper-batter Neil Rock and right-arm quick, Barry McCarthy.
Tector, who top scored with 47, joined hands with Curtis Campher for a 70-run partnership to rescue Ireland from 19-3 to help post 141 on the board. Burl was once again effective with his googlies and picked up the crucial wickets of Campher and Rock to put the visitors behind the eight-ball.
Despite White’s two wickets, Ervine, the Zimbabwean skipper, stood tall to register only the second half-century of the series, and his fourth against Ireland in just eleven innings. His 43-ball 54, laced with six fours, nearly helped his side home only for his dismissal off Mark Adair in the 17th over to reignite the Irish hopes.
With Zimbabwe still 23 runs adrift, Burl clubbed left-arm spinner Dockrell over long-on for successive sixes and a four to reverse the momentum. Six balls later, Luke Jongwe hit the winning runs to ice the chase and seal a thrilling series win with a raucous crowd up on its feet.
“We saw in all three games that the team who won the toss won the match but I don’t think that made a huge difference,” Ireland skipper, Andrew Balbirnie, assessed. “I just think Zimbabwe adapted better than us to the conditions over the three games.”
Stirling played two games for the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in the inaugural International League T20 in the UAE and scored 74 runs, including a half-century. Lorcan Tucker, playing for MI Emirates in the same tournament, and Josh Little, away with the Pretoria Capitals in the SA20, did not feature for their respective teams before linking up with Ireland ahead of the ODI series against Zimbabwe.