Thursday, May 30, 2024

Ireland short with the bat and in the field as Pakistan seal another dominant victory

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Ireland 178-7 (20 ovs) (Lorcan Tucker 73, Andrew Balbirnie 35; Shaheen Afridi 3-14) lost to Pakistan 181-4 (17 ovs) (Babar Azam 75, Mohammad Rizwan 56; Mark Adair 3-28) by six wickets. Pakistan win series 2-1.

In many ways, Tuesday’s six-wicket defeat to Pakistan was a case of deja vu for Ireland. Asked to bat again at the toss, they failed to secure anywhere near enough runs at Castle Avenue, a difficult venue when it comes to defending totals. Mohammad Rizwan (56) and Babar Azam (75) once again led the way for Pakistan, while Azam Khan (18 not out) powered his side home.

Lorcan Tucker also passed 50 once again, continuing his welcome return to form in a losing cause.

Yet in other ways, this was an unusual Irish outing. With Paul Stirling rested and Gareth Delany injured, Ireland made rare changes to their line-up. Ross Adair and Neil Rock got a run out while Tucker captained the team for the first time in his career. Yet much of Ireland’s traditional strength with the bat deserted them, while once again a bowling attack without the pace of Josh Little or the control of a top-end spinner was exposed.

The conventional wisdom with this Irish side is they bat a touch within themselves in the middle overs, looking to set the game up for the power hitters at end of the innings. While Ireland’s strength in that area normally proves the wisdom of the ploy, Tuesday exposed the risk when it goes wrong.

In the last seven overs, a period when Ireland need to rapidly accelerate, they scored just 49 at a run rate of exactly seven. Regular wickets didn’t help, Tucker, George Dockrell, Rock, Curtis Campher and Mark Adair all falling during that span.

At both the start and back end of the innings, Shaheen Afridi varied his pace and lengths beautifully. His three dismissals, of Ross Adair, Rock and Mark Adair, showed his ability to vary his pace nicely, but the discipline he showed when sticking to a plan of bowling mostly heavy lengths ensured his four overs cost just 14 runs.

Things could have been worse for Ireland, the visitors once again offering gifts in the field, no less than when Tucker – who batted beautifully aside from the chances – was dropped on seven and 45. Azam Khan also missed a stumping when Tucker was on 28. He somewhat punished another poor display in the field, pulling out his trusted ramp shot over the wicketkeeper alongside a series of square drives.

From a good platform of 129 for two with seven overs to go, Ireland limped along to 178. It looked 20, if not 30 runs light, a theory backed up by Mohammad Rizwan’s start with the bat. He worked past the departure of his opening partner, Saim Ayub, to hit seven boundaries in the powerplay, his three maximums coming high over the leg side.

To continue the theme of fielding woes, George Dockrell dropped a regulation chance when Babar Azam was on 19. The Pakistan captain cashed in, hitting four maximums off a single Ben White over, over the sight screen and into the clubhouse at square leg for good measure.

Mark Adair did bowl Rizwan for 56 when he missed an attempted ramp, while Babar also holed out off Craig Young, but not before Ireland dropped another catch via Graham Hume. Ireland picked up a final scalp, Iftikhar Ahmed falling, before Azam Khan once again blasted the winning runs, sealing a consecutive brutalising victory and with it the series.

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