Paul Stirling admitted his ‘daddy hundred’ came at least two games too late as Ireland ended the group stages of the World Cup qualifying tournament in Bulawayo with a convincing 138-run victory over UAE.
Stirling’s 162 was his second highest score in a one-day international and was the foundation of Ireland’s second highest total, 349 for four. But it was always a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ with their hopes of making it to the Finals in India ended by defeats in their opening three games.
“I wish the century was two days ago but you can’t turn it on like a tap,” said Stirling. “I would have preferred to have scored a century in the first three games but I played and missed today and nicked them the other day, but no one says anything when you score 162.
Paul Stirling batting against UAE (ICC)
“I think our best chance (of reaching the Finals) was to qualify in the Super League because we knew here would be difficult with only two of 10 teams going through. We have a lot of thinking to do and reassessment ahead but that won’t happen while we are in Zimbabwe, that will happen over the next few weeks.
“For now we want to get on that plane next week with two more wins (the first Play-Off game is against the United States in Harare on Friday) and every game you play for Ireland is important for everyone involved. It shows who wants to make a name for himself, the chance to score a hundred or take five wickets will go a long way.
“So there is no point moping about, there’s the opportunity for runs and wickets, togetherness and wins and it starts now. It feels like a new chapter, unfortunately the last one closed pretty sharply.”
With Ben White still on the injured list, the same players who lost to Sri Lanka had the chance to score runs and take wickets and the batters enjoyed themselves against an attack which was as friendly as the Oman one they faced in the opening match.
The difference this time was that they didn’t give their wickets away and played with a freedom which was missing when the pressure was on.
Balbirnie took the opportunity to get back among the runs, a patient 66 with just five fours and a six from 88 balls, in a second-wicket stand of 184 dominated by Stirling, who brought up his 100 at exactly a run a ball and then upped the tempo, his remaining 62 runs coming in just 33 balls.
His final boundary count was 15 fours and eight sixes, caught at deep wicket going for his ninth maximum.
Harry Tector then took Ireland through the 300 barrier for the first time in the tournament, his 57 coming from 33 balls and Lorcan Tucker and George Dockrell rubbed salt in the UAE wounds by taking 16 off the 50th over.
Josh Little is a doubt for the USA game — he bowled only five overs with a toe problem but he was back among the wickets yesterday, albeit after conceding 18 in his first two overs.
Andy McBrine took two wickets in three balls to reduce UAE to 109 for six and after that it was just a matter of time before Ireland collected their first (and last) points of the tournament. Just a little too late.