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Match Report
David Gash

A brilliant hundred from opening batsman Paul Stirling helped put Ireland in a solid position at the mid-way stage of the second match in the RSA series at Belfast. Stirling showed just why he is now a regular fixture in Middlesex's CB40 team as his spectacular innings set the tone for Ireland to put on a competitive score of 238. That total is around 20 shy of where Ireland would like to be but it still leaves Pakistan with a tough task, it they are to claim their second win of the series. Winning the toss, William Porterfield elected to bat under sunny skies, a stark contrast to the miserable conditions of Saturday's first leg. Team news for the Irish was that they were sticking with the same eleven that were steam rolled by the visitor's just two days ago, and Ed Joyce was to continue at the top of the innings with Stirling.

After a conservative start, the Irish openers got into grove early on with Stirling playing the enforcer, while Joyce worked the ball around to keep the strike rotating. Stirling's innings really took off in the fourth over when he flicked Saturday's hero with the ball, Junaid Khan, high over the mid-wicket boundary for six. Joyce was far from his fluent best, but played the supporting role to Stirling who was combining powerful shots with deft touches into the in-field to frustrate the Pakistan attack. At the end of the first powerplay Ireland were 53 without loss. The introduction of spin from both ends threatened to put the pressure on the Irish openers, but Stirling had other ideas and continued to find the boundary with regularity. However, Joyce was starting to really struggle to get the ball away and was put out of his misery in the 15th over when Saeed Ajmal found his outside edge. Mohammad Salman took the catch to end his 52 ball stay for 17, and leave Ireland at 65-1.

Stirling brought up his half century in the 17th over with a picture perfect drive through the covers. The introduction of Hammad Azam from the city end did little to change the Pakistan fortunes and he was dispatched for four by William Porterfield in his first over. A huge six by Stirling over deep midwicket off Hafeez in the 22nd over brought up the Irish team hundred, but Porterfield was soon on his way back just two overs later as he fell victim to Hafeez's quicker delivery; clean bowled for 15, Ireland were on 108-2. Cusack joined Stirling at the crease and Pakistan thought they had him early after a big shout for caught behind off Azam, but umpire Mark Hawthorne shook his head.

After another huge six over mid wicket, Stirling brought up his first ODI hundred on Irish soil, and his third overall, in the 36th over with a drive to mid-on to a standing ovation from the large Stormont crowd. His century came off ninety three balls and included seven fours and two huge sixes. Cusack became Pakistan's third scalp in the 41st over after he danced down the wicket to Ajmal only to miss the ball and the quick hands of Salman whipped the bails off to leave Ireland on 176 for 3.

Stirling offered few chances throughout his innings, but he must have thought he was a gonner on the last ball of the 42nd over when he skied the ball to short fine leg, but Junaid grassed the dolly of a catch. However, he made up for his mistake the very next ball, clean bowling Stirling to bring his entertaining innings of 109 to an end. Gary Wilson, playing his 100th match in the green shirt replaced him to join Kevin O'Brien at the crease and got off the mark in style with a cut through point. But the latter was soon out going for the spectacular in the 46th when he was caught on the long off boundary for 7 off the bowling of Ajmal with Ireland on 198. John Mooney could only manage a run a ball six before his brief stay was brought to an end by Ajmal, his sweep shot taking an edge through to Salman behind the stumps to become the spinners fourth victim to leave him with impressive figures of 4 for 35 off his ten overs.

The run-out of Trent Johnston in the final over for three put Ireland on 223 for 7 and Wilson followed the next ball when he holed out to long on for an energetic 33. Ireland finished on 238 for 8.

David Gash reports on the second innings

A big hitting fifth wicket partnership between Younus Khan and Umar Akmal handed Pakistan a 5 wicket win and a clean sweep of the RSA Series at Stormont, Belfast. The game was evenly poised at the the mid-way stage of the second innings, but Ireland had no answer to the power hitting of Akmal and the placement of Younus and in the end succumbed to their second straight defeat at the hands of their visitors. Taufiq Umar and Mohammad Hafeez opened opened for the visitors and their innings got off to the worst possible start when Hafeez chipped a length Trent Johnston delivery to Andrew White at mid-on to leave his side under some early pressure.

Azhar Ali, playing in his first ODI, joined Taufiq at the crease and together the pair set about playing themselves in without taking risk. There was some early bad news for the Irish camp, however, as Boyd Rankin went down with back trouble after only his second over which required physio attention on the field. After a slight delay he was forced off the pitch for further treatment. Both batsmen played cautiously and were happy to play the ball on merit as the required run rate continued to crawl higher, and at the end of the power play Pakistan were on 35 for the loss of one wicket. Ali was lucky not to become Ireland's second victim in the 16th over when a quick single nearly cost him his wicket, but Andrew White's throw from mid-off just missed the stumps at the non-strikers end. Taufiq cracked a big six off the next ball from Alex Cusack to bring up the team 50; one of his few shots in anger.

That was one of Taufiq's last contributions to the match, however, as the introduction of Kevin O'Brien in the next over brought about the left-handers demise. He tried to force a drive but the ball skewed off his bat and into the hands of Paul Stirling who was waiting at mid-wicket. This brought an end to the 63 run partnership between him and Ali that came off a pedestrian 93 balls to leave Pakistan on 65 for 2. Younus Khan came to the crease to join Ali and together the pair moved the score onto 80 for 2 when, in the 21st over, the returning Boyd Rankin found the latter's edge with Paul Stirling again taking the catch, this time at first slip, to keep the Stormont crowd on the edge of their seat. The arrival of captain Misbah ul Haq to the middle did little to end Pakistan's slow progress. That was until the 31st over when, with rain clouds looming and Pakistan well behind the Duckworth Lewis target, Misbah launched O'Brien high over Alex Cusack's head at mid-wicket for a maximum.

With the game now evenly poised, the next few overs saw a change of intent from the Pakistan captains old and new as they looked to rotate the strike at any given opportunity to keep the D/L target in touching distance. The reintroduction of John Mooney into the attack from the city end in the 37th over paid instant dividends straight away for the Irish as he accounted for the wicket of Misbah who was just getting into grove and forming a dangerous partnership with Younus. Their 68 run stand ended when Gary Wilson took a smart catch behind standing up to the stumps, and the captain was on his way for a workmanlike 32, Pakistan were 148 for 4. Umar Akmal is known for his flamboyant stokeplay and aggressive style and he announced himself on the game early on with a confident strike down the ground for four off Mooney then followed that up soon with a huge maximum off Johnston over wide long on in the 40th over.

Younus, not to be out done by his partner, got in on the six hitting act and put a short John Mooney delivery into the crowd on the mid-wicket boundary to bring up his 50 and bring Pakistan over the 200 mark in the 45th over. Three balls later, Akmal slashed the ball to the cover-point boundary to put Pakistan on 210 and requiring 29 to win from 30 balls. Another huge six over long off by Akmal followed up by two singles brought him to his half century off just 44 balls, and he continued to play shots for fun as Pakistan raced towards their target of 239, much to the delight of the large support. But the late fireworks came to an end in the penultimate over as Younus pulled the ball straight to Kevin O'Brien at mid wicket off the bowling Cusack for a match winning 64 with his side just two runs short of victory; his partnership with Akmal was worth 89 in 69 balls.

Eventually, Pakistan passed the finishing line in the same over as Akmal smashed Cusack to square leg boundary to claim victory with eight balls to spare. It looked at one stage that Ireland were on course for another historic victory over Pakistan, but it wasn't to be and the class of Akmal and Younus was the difference between the two sides.

Despite being on the losing side, Paul Stirling received the man of the match award for his impressive innings of 109, his first hundred against a full member side.

Photographs
Stormont, Belfast