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Ian Callender

Not so much a homecoming as a wake as Ireland crashed to a 52 runs defeat in their first Friends Provident Trophy game of the season against Worcestershire at Stormont. Seven days previously, Ireland had swept all before them in the heat of Pretoria to claim victory in the final of the World Cup Qualifying Trophy and confirm their status as the No 1 Associate team in world cricket.

But back home on a cold, overcast day in Belfast, without seven of the 16-man squad from South Africa and against professional opposition, they received a rude awakening as the county side did much as they pleased, with both bat and ball. The overnight rain and morning drizzle delayed the start by three hours, reducing the match to 33 overs per side but Worcestershire still had no hesitation in batting first. They reached 180 for eight, despite no batsman reaching 50 and then Ireland's top three had no answer to a pacey, impressive opening burst by Gareth Andrew and Aussie Ashley Noffke. When Reinhart Strydom was dismissed in the 15th over for a painful-to-watch eight, from 45 balls, Ireland had mustered only 36 runs and any hope of a comeback was dashed by a horrible middle order collapse which plunged the hosts to 43 for five. The rest of the match was practice for Worcestershire's second string bowlers and batting for Ireland's lower order.

And all this on the day when the Ireland captain, William Porterfield, was strutting his stuff on television inspiring his county Gloucestershire to a 128 runs win over Surrey at Bristol. Porty's striking contribution was 74 off 84 balls. And the bad news for Ireland is that he cannot return to help his national team-mates in the competition as he has now played for another team. The one bright spot yesterday was Paul Stirling. The 18 year old, who was forced to follow Ireland's progress in South Africa from home, endured a difficult start against the Worcestershire pace men but he greeted slow left armer Ian Fisher by hitting him for a straight six and never looked back.

Never afraid to use his feet, he brought up his third half century for Ireland from 68 balls with three fours and two more sixes. Unfortunately, much like the Worcestershire batsmen before him he failed to go on and, five balls later, was stumped off a wide. The rest of the Ireland batting, however is best forgotten. Gary Wilson, who was due to play against Porterfield until released by Surrey during the week, at least hit a boundary - of the others only Kyle McCallan (24 from 25 balls) and John Mooney (22 off 15), in the easy pickings towards the end, found the fence - but he is still far from the fluent form he was in last month at the start of the African tour.

Strydom batted like a player desperate to spend time in the middle and it was obvious he hadn't the luxury of five weeks batting on hard, fast pitches. There was no such excuse for Kevin O'Brien, Andrew Poynter and Andrew White and it was particularly disappointing to see them surrender so easily to spin. They aggregated three runs and faced 15 balls between them.

Peter Connell and McCallan impressed with the ball but apart from Mooney, given only three overs, which cost just 12 runs, the others did not do themselves justice with Phil Eaglestone going for 32 in four overs and Regan West's seven overs of slow left arm spin cost 33 including, embarrassingly, the only four wides of the innings.

Stormont, Belfast