It could not have been closer but while West Indies sealed the series with victory in the second one-day international in Barbados, Ireland know they could – and should – have been heading to Grenada for the final game on Sunday, all-square.
In one of the longest and most dramatic final overs in any ODI, Ireland had two chances to take the final wicket but squandered both and last man Sheldon Cottrell hit the fifth ball over the extra cover boundary to spark wild celebrations from the home fans and players.
Thanks to another herculean effort by the Ireland bowlers, who had no right to defend an under-par 237, West Indies still needed five off the last over with their last pair in the middle. Mark Adair restricted them to a single from the first two balls but the drama started when the batsmen attempted to complete a quick single to the next ball.
When Mark Adair gathered the ball at the stumps, Cottrell was short of his ground and he was still out of the frame when the bails were removed. But was it taken out by the ball or Adair’s hand after he had thrown/dropped the ball? That was the decision which third umpire, Sri Lankan Ruchira Palliyaguruge had to make. From one angle it appeared as if the ball had clearly hit the stump first but from another angle there was doubt and after a wait of what must have been a full five minutes, he gave the batsman the benefit.
With the single completed that left Hayden Walsh, the set batsman, 45 not out, on strike and he turned the next ball down to short fine leg for a comfortable single. What possessed Cottrell to come back for a non-existent second only he knows but he was stranded closer to Walsh than where he should have been when Barry Mc Carthy’s throw came in. Unfortunately, it came to the wrong end and a fumble as the Ireland fielders tried to repair the damage allowed Cottrell, even with a slip himself, to regain his ground.
That left just two needed to win from the final two balls but Cottrell needed only one and the Ireland players sunk to their knees in disappointment, so close ending a run of 19 games without a win against the ‘Big Eight’.
When a match is decided by one wicket off the penultimate ball, both teams can look back at the runs that got away or were given away but Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie admitted they were probably 20-30 runs short, with only 45 runs (all bar one four and a last-ball six from McCarthy, were singles) scored in the last 10 overs.
Paul Stirling led from the front after Balbirnie, unsurprisingly, chose to bat first on the same pitch used in Tuesday’s first game, Ireland having named the same team.
Stirling reached his seventh half-century in his last eight ODIs, before he was bowled for 63 by Alzarri Joseph who, for the second match in a row, proved the main destroyer of the Ireland batting and actually finished with identical figures of 4-32.
Balbirnie was his first victim, with his very first ball, when the captain played down the wrong line and his other three followed in the space of 14 balls in the first three overs of his third spell. Two balls after Stirling, Lorcan Tucker received a virtually unplayable short ball and could only help it to backward point and Kevin O’Brien, two balls after successively reviewing an lbw decision, top edged a pull to short fine leg.
From the comfort of 129-3, Ireland had collapsed to 154-6 with still left 19 overs left.
Simi Singh and Mark Adair stayed together for nine overs, adding 38 before Adair’s day started to go off the rails. When he drove pace bowler Romario Shepherd - replacing Keemo Paul in one of two changes in the West Indies side – to mid-off, it looked as if he thought the ball was going to carry to the fielder, because he took off on a reckless single. A direct hit was always going to leave him short of his ground and Nik Pooran’s throw was just that and Ireland had lost another needless wicket.
This time they did manage to bat out the overs and little did we know at halfway just how exciting McCarthy’s last ball six, off Cottrell, would turn out to be.
Andy McBrine, again entrusted with the new ball, struck in his fourth over, and this time it was the 99 not out man from Tuesday, Evin Lewis who was first to go, caught by Boyd Rankin at backward square for just seven.
Shimron Hetmyer may be exciting but he doesn’t seem to know how to play a defensive shot and he skied his seventh ball straight up for Tucker to take the catch and when the wicket-keeper also held a straightforward edge from Brandon King, in Boyd Rankin’s first over, West Indies were 24-3.
Singh ended the fourth wicket stand of 52 in the 19th over, but that only let in home skipper Kieron Pollard for a remarkable display of hitting. He ‘pushed’ his second ball over the extra cover boundary for six and then took apart the unfortunate Gareth Delany who really shouldn’t have been bowling the next over as he had been hit for three successive fours in his first over by Pooran.
The final two balls of his second over were hit out of the ground at long-on by Pollard and Delany had bowled two overs for 33.
There was still time for the towering Pollard to hit a fourth six, one-handed off Singh, again to long-on, before McCarthy ended his spectacular stay with a superb return catch, diving to his right; Pollard had scored 40 off 32 balls and West Indies were 142-6.
When Shepherd followed five balls later, nonchalantly caught low at mid-wicket by Stirling off Singh, West Indies still needed 90 with just three wickets left.
But West indies lower order batting is far superior to Ireland’s and Khary Pierre (18), Walsh and man of the match Joseph (16) nudged and hit their way to that dramatic final over and for Cottrell to win it with his second scoring stroke.
Heartache for Ireland and particularly for William Porterfield who was presented with a special cap on becoming the second player, after Kevin O’Brien, to make 300 appearances. He will never forget it.