Ireland are getting closer - but only just. After losing Saturday's Twenty20 game against a West Indies XI by 18 runs, Sunday's contest, reduced by overnight rain to 15 overs, was lost by 16 runs. On both days Ireland had two stand-out batsmen but the support just wasn't there and that remains the difference between the teams.
Last night Trent Johnston, finally promoted up the order to No 5, blasted 39 off 20 balls with four sixes and William Porterfield also hit two maximums, including the first ball of the innings off Sulieman Benn to give Ireland the perfect launching pad in their pursuit of an imposing 153. That was the total they scored in 20 overs in Saturday's defeat but this time they closed in on it even quicker, as they had to in an even shorter form of Twenty20.
Not that Ireland did much wrong yesterday. After Niall O'Brien was dismissed for 62 off 44 balls in the first game of the weekend, there was no-one to maintain the momentum and the lower order could scramble only 16 off the last 17 balls, less than half what was required. But when Johnston was caught at long-off at the start of the penultimate over yesterday, Gary Wilson came in and hit 10 off three balls before perishing at deep backward point as the onslaught continued.
Another 11 came off the last over but in 20/20, never mind 15/15, that is still not enough to win the big games. On Saturday, the West Indies thumped 76 off the last seven overs, despite losing six wickets and yesterday it was 77 off the last five! Nigel Jones, mysteriously not used on Saturday, probably wished he hadn't been yesterday as his two overs went for 26 and the Civil Service North captain seems as far as way as ever from gaining a first choice place in this line-up.
He got a chance to bat at No 6 yesterday and hit a memorable six high onto the electronic Sabina Park scoreboard to help him to 21 off 18 balls, after failing to score from his first three. Kevin O'Brien and Alex Cusack were the other bowlers to suffer at the end, an O'Brien over going for 20, not helped by a chest high no-ball pulled over the fence by Wavell Hinds and Cusack's last over included three more maximums, bringing the sixes tally for the innings to seven but that was still two less than Ireland's impressive total in their 15 overs.
And, anyway, it is unfair to lay the responsibility on bowlers in this form of the game. This is made for batsmen - its sole purpose is for them to entertain the public. It is they who win the matches, bowlers don't lose them and Ireland had yesterday's hero in Johnston, rewarded in the prize ceremony at the end for hitting the most sixes. He also deserved a prize for the stunning one-handed catch, diving to his right, to dismiss Hinds as he proved the nearly 36 year old body is still well and truly in working order. The difference was in the fours column where the West Indies' dozen was almost twice as many as Ireland's tally - only Wilson hit more than one while Andre Fletcher had six in his 27 at the top of the order.
But if Ireland can get their all their batsmen firing on the same day - Paul Stirling made 33 from 19 on Saturday - then one-day Ireland will win a Twenty20 game against the big boys - and why not in the World Twenty20 in 11 days time.
- That's how you do it! SIX of them by Wavell Hinds
- A more silken approach is employed by Ramnaresh Sarwan as he sends the ball scuttling to the boundary
- Look mom! One-handed and it still goes for six
- Ramnaresh Sarwan cuts to the boundary
- Wavell Hinds keeps his head down and the eyes on the ball and he scores freely on the on side
- Look at her go! ...Off Wavell Hinds' bat that is
- Ramnaresh Sarwan in a rare moment of circumspect strokeplay
- Andre Fletcher hurries to get his bat on ball
- Andre Fletcher is beaten
- Andre Fletcher steers behind point
- Team prayer
- Niall O'Brien sweeps
- Two Irish fans of different generations enjoy the Sabina Park atmosphere
- Paul Stirling