Ireland draw exciting opener

Paul Stirling, Ireland, hits a run to score a half century. Picture: Sportsfile

Ireland fell agonisingly short of a first-ever win over a Test-playing national in Dublin as the opening RSA Insurance one-day international against Pakistan ended in a tie.

Kevin O’Brien swept the final ball from Saeed Ajmal for four to level the scores after Paul Stirling’s second century in as many games against Pakistan had set the platform for a historic success.

O’Brien attempted to complete the job, as he thrashed an unbeaten 84 from 47 balls, but the hosts had to be content with a result to further vindicate their growing status.

Ireland memorably beat Pakistan on St Patrick’s Day at the 2007 World Cup, their first major success, and thoughts were returning to that match in Jamaica as Stirling made light work of an attack featuring the world’s top-ranked ODI bowler Ajmal.

At one point Stirling launched the mystery spinner into the Clontarf Pavilion off one knee as he hit full flow.

A brief scare on 99, when he was left diving for his crease, was avoided before reaching his century off 101 balls and including 12 fours and a six.

Even when he fell soon after, to an ugly swipe at seven-foot fast bowler Mohammad Irfan in the powerplay, Kevin O’Brien took charge.

The hosts had still needed 105 when Stirling departed, in a match reduced to 47 overs by rain, but O’Brien lusty strokeplay took it to the wire as Ireland finished on 275 for five.

It meant Mohammad Hafeez’s own century earlier in a score of 266 for five – a total improved to 275 on the Duckworth-Lewis Method because of the rain – and his two wickets, were not enough for Pakistan as their preparations for next month’s Champions Trophy suffered a setback.

Stirling, who hit a run-a-ball ton when the teams last met in Belfast two years ago, immediately set about his task driving Irfan to the straight boundary in the first over.

While skipper William Porterfield fell meekly chipping Hafeez to Shafiq at mid-wicket, after a 66-run opening stand, his departure hardly inhibited Stirling.

The ease of the opener’s timing was the feature and when Pakistan eventually turned to Ajmal, curiously waiting until the 23rd over, Stirling showed his subtlety with a pair of swept boundaries.

Better was to come when Stirling launched him into the stands off one knee.

Ed Joyce provided an astute presence in a 96-run stand until he played down the wrong line to Hafeez.

Ireland were 158 for two and sought to press home their advantage by sending in Kevin O’Brien.

He almost had the worst possible effect when he called for a quick single that left Stirling, on 99, diving to make his ground.

Next ball the opener was celebrating his fifth ODI century, however, as he bunted Irfan to deep cover for a single.

Stirling fell soon after and while Gary Wilson and Niall O’Brien quickly followed Ireland’s hopes remained with his brother Kevin.

With Trent Johnston they reduced the ask to 15 from the final over and an O’Brien six from the third ball had the home fans jumping only for their side to fall just short. Earlier, Hafeez defied the rain delays to keep his composure and post his fifth ODI century.

He initially had to rescue the innings from a pedestrian start after the Pakistan openers appeared paralysed by a combination of the Dublin cold and Tim Murtagh and Johnston’s tight lines.

The only boundary of the first 10 overs was Nasir Jamshed’s pull over the Clontarf Pavilion, off Johnston, and even then he was soon forced off with a back problem.

Imran Farhat crawled to nine from 34 balls before his first flourish, a slash at a wide Alex Cusack delivery, ended in the hands of Stirling at first slip.

Ireland were rightly enthused, despite the weather which at one point brought hail, until Hafeez and Shafiq took control with a 188-run stand.

The pair initially targeted Ireland’s second-stringers, with Kevin O’Brien and Stirling’s combined 10 overs costing 74, to break the early shackles.

They worked around a further two rain delays before reaching their 100 stand from 122 balls and Shafiq looked set for his maiden ODI century, after passing his previous best of 78, only to miscue a lofted drive off Cusack to Johnston.

Hafeez did bring up three figures in the next over when he pushed his 102nd ball to deep mid-wicket for two.

The right-hander’s only blemish was to run out his skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, who had not faced a ball, after Jamshed had quickly returned and departed by chipping O’Brien to a diving Murtagh in the deep.

But Hafeez remained until the end, lifting Johnston over the pavilion for a second time, which proved crucial.

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