THE tributes for Paul Stirling from his peers continued yesterday after his man-of-the-match performance helped Ireland claim an historic first win in a one-day international away to a Full Member, outside of World Cups.
Stirling’s memorable 142 was the joint fourth highest ODI score by an Ireland batsman and bettered against a Full Member nation only by Andrew Balbirnie’s 145 against Afghanistan last year.
Fittingly, the Ireland captain, who also scored a century and shared a record second-wicket stand of 214 with his new vice-captain in the seven-wicket defeat of world champions England, was the first to hail his superlative effort.
“That’s as well as I’ve seen Paul bat in an ODI,” said Balbirnie. “He was aggressive from the top and then set the tempo in the first powerplay, which we didn’t have in the previous games. I love batting with him, my favourite player to bat with.
“When he texted me to say he had committed to Ireland and wasn’t going to continue with Middlesex, I was delighted. Every team around the world would want him. He’s only 29 so hopefully there’s plenty more runs in the bank.”
And England captain Eoin Morgan, who played in Stirling’s debut match for Ireland in 2008 and was then a long-term county team-mate, was quick to add his praise.
“He’s as dangerous an opening batsman that we play against,” added Morgan. “I’ve played in tournaments all around the world with and against him, and, of course, with Middlesex. I know guys do not like bowling to him, he hits good balls for four, and on his day he can take the game away from you.”
August 4, 2020 was certainly his and Ireland’s day, but as well as equalling their total of 329 against England at the 2011 World Cup, this time with only three wickets down, it will also go into the record books as the first game in which Ireland fielded a team with only one player aged over 30.
Although there were seven members of the victorious team in Bangalore nine years ago in the Ageas Bowl on Tuesday, William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Gary Wilson and George Dockrell were unused members of the squad — and Niall O’Brien was in the commentary box — and only Stirling and 36-year-old Kevin O’Brien were on the field.
“It’s a huge win for this group,” said Balbirnie. “For so many young guys to be involved in this series is great, and to be involved in a win like that is special and something they will remember forever.”
Arguably, the coolest head in the ground was Harry Tector, at 20 years and 242 days the youngest member of the team but who was sent in at No.4 after Stirling’s dismissal with Ireland still needing 65 from 50 balls.
“We were talking about sending in Kevin if a wicket fell but why not throw in the young guy? The way he’s been playing has been exceptional, and for him to bat with Kevin is something he will learn so much from,” said Balbirnie.
“It may have been daunting for some young lads but he took it on the chin and I’m delighted he was able to experience that.”
Tector finished 29 not out from 26 balls.
Add in Josh Little, just 35 days older than Tector, who claimed two wickets, including Morgan for the third successive ODI, Curtis Campher (21), who dismissed David Willey for his fifth wicket of the series, and Gareth Delany (23), who shared an opening stand of 50 with Stirling and trapped Tom Banton leg before, and the future has never been brighter.
In fact, take out Kevin O’Brien and the average age of the team is 25 and there are more youngsters ready in the wings, with Pembroke’s teenage leg spinner JJ Garth, also in the 22 players that have been in the bio-secure bubble in Southampton for the last 18 days, and 22-year-old Clontarf pace bowler David Delany, who is on the injury list.
The fact that both Balbirnie and Stirling, when asked if this was Ireland’s biggest win, had to think about their answer shows how far this team has come, in a year when, despite the pandemic, they have beaten the T20 world champions and now the 50-over World Cup holders, both in their own backyard.