Andy Balbirnie and Harry Tector scored top quality centuries in Harare yesterday (WEDS) but then watched their fine work go to waste as Zimbabwe scrambled to a thrilling last-ball victory in the first of three ODIs.

Skipper Balbirnie, playing his 200th international, and young gun Tector rescued their side from 25-2 with only the fifth double century partnership for Ireland in 50-over matches, and a total of 288-4 looked more than enough at halfway.

The Zimbabwe reply started steadily, though, and while a rain break that led to a revised target of 214 from 37 overs appeared to have played into Ireland’s hands, the home side somehow conjured 23 from the final eight balls to win by three wickets.

“It’s usually tough batting here in the morning,” Paul Stirling said. “We spoke about settling in and building a score, and we did that and got a total that we thought was above par but full credit to Zimbabwe it was a brilliant chase.”

Ireland should have won. Balbirnie may have got away with nicking one to the keeper early on, but he was otherwise imperious, striking three maximums and 13 fours before retiring hurt on 121 after top-edging a high full toss into his helmet.

Tector, who made two centuries against New Zealand last summer reached another in the final over of the innings, finishing 101 not out, with an enormous six and eight fours from 109 balls.

Three centuries in his last four ODI innings and not once on the winning side.

With Balbirnie sidelined by concussion protocols, Stirling took over the captaincy and kept a rein on the Zimbabwe reply, aided by a first ODI wicket for Graham Hume and a fine running caught and bowled by Tector.

When Josh Little had former England star Gary Ballance caught in the deep, the Boys in Green were firmly in control but all-rounder Ryan Burl, whose bat won Sunday’s T20 decider, again proved the difference between the sides.

Burl struck 59 from 41 balls either side of the rain break, including a four and a six from the final two balls of the penultimate over, leaving 13 to win off the last with five wickets in hand.

The short straw fell to Hume and a rollercoaster over saw Burl run out, Brad Evans lbw to his second ball for six and, with four needed off the last, wicketkeeper Clive Madande strike a low full toss to cow corner for the winning boundary.

Never mind Madande, for Ireland it was Mad and Ness.