Ian Callender at Kensington Oval
IRELAND’S batting failed to fire in Barbados to allow West Indies to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match one-day international series with a comfortable five wickets victory.
The hosts had more than 16 overs to spare when they passed Ireland’s chronically below-par 180, with Even Lewis hitting the winning runs, his extra cover drive landing a couple of feet short of the boundary; he finished 99 not out.
Lewis was the difference between the teams because although none of Ireland’s top five reached 20, the left handed opener was the only batsman to better that score as the bowlers tried hard to defend the impossible.
But it was a series of poor shots which let down Ireland in the opening match of 2020 and they know they will need at least an extra 130 runs if they are to be competitive in the second game, back at Kensington Oval tomorrow.
The Ireland team selection was the initial talking point with no place for James McCollum, despite scoring back to back 50s in his last two ODIs and Gary Wilson, who after being ‘rested’ for the last 50-over series against Zimbabwe, again found himself with a watching brief as Lorcan Tucker retained the gloves.
A third Northern Knight, Craig Young, was the other player left out as Ireland went in with all three spinners, although Gareth Delany, who opened the batting on his ODI debut, was not used by Andrew Balbirnie in his first match as Ireland captain.
He has a 100 per cent record at the toss, after calling correctly and had no hesitation in batting first but although Delany and Paul Stirling enjoyed a confident start, with an opening stand of 34 from 38 balls, it was the experienced Stirling who was the first to give up his wicket, pulling Alzarri Joseph’s third ball straight to mid-wicket.
Balbirnie hit two fours and then pulled Joseph for six to long leg, all in his first 11 balls, but his attempt at defending Royston Chase’s loosener took the edge and straight into wicket-keeper Shai Hope’s gloves.
Delany had hit 13 off his first 13 balls but managed only six singles from his next 39 balls and attempting to up the pace he could only bottom edge a pull shot through to Hope.
Kevin O’Brien, playing his 143rd international, lasted just seven balls before he was leg before, playing across the line to Joseph and when deposed captain William Porterfield was surprised by the extra bounce of Sheldon Cottrell, he gave Hope his third catch and Ireland were in peril at 80-5 in the 21st over.
Simi Singh continues to struggle with the bat at this level – his top score in 13 innings last year was 20 – and after five singles he failed to survive Cottrell’s next over, caught down the leg side and Ireland had still not reached three figures.
Mark Adair wants to be treated as a serious batsman – not just a slogger at the end of one-day games – and he went a long way to proving that with 29 from 34 balls, including a huge six which hit the top of the four-storey media centre.
His partnership of 54 with Tucker was comfortably the highest of the innings with the Leinster Lightning keeper scoring a patient 31 from 68 balls.
Both were dismissed in the space of three overs, Adair coming down the wicket looking to repeat his straight six and being stumped and Tucker caught off a lifter at backward point. Andy McBrine, like Singh unable to reach 20, in a sequence which has now extended to 35 innings for the North West Warriors skipper, holed out to a fine running catch on the mid-wicket boundary and it was left to Barry McCarthy, last man out, caught at long-on, and Boyd Rankin to add 30 for the final wicket and give Ireland some momentum going into the second innings.
McBrine opened the bowling for Ireland, on the basis that he had dismissed Hope at the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe two years ago but that day Hope batted No 5 and it was in the second over of his second spell. Hope was indeed the first to be dismissed but it was McCarthy, in his third over, at the other end from McBrine who took the wicket, a super catch running backwards by Porterfield who produced another fielding masterclass square of the wicket.
Mark Adair, replacing McBrine, bowled far too short and was duly punished by Lewis who hit him for 4, 6, 6 in the space of three balls and Balbirnie was forced to replace his young strike bowler with Singh, earlier than he wanted.
Even with Rankin bowling at the other end, Lewis and Brandon King, a T20 specialist, added 71 for the second wicket before the drinks break effectively ended the stand as, three balls later, King turned Singh straight to McCarthy at backward square.
Rankin had no luck at the other end as twice he four balls, he saw top edges fly over Tucker’s head but Ireland best spell followed when McBrine and Singh were in tandem.
First Singh had Shimron Hetmyer caught off a skyer by Tucker and then the talented and exciting Nik Pooran, having hit McBrine for 6, 4, 4, in successive deliveries hit the first ball of the Donemana man’s next over to Singh at backward point.
Balbirnie deserves a lot of credit here for keeping McBrine in the attack, much as he did earlier with McCarthy’s who wicket came the over after he had been hit for 10. But 130-4 was as good as it got for Ireland and although Rankin’s bouncer claimed the wicket of Roston Chase with the scores tied it allowed Lewis, fittingly, to hit the winning runs. His 99 not out came at exactly a run a ball with 13 fours and two sixes.
Worryingly for Ireland there was so much more to come.