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Stirling powers Ireland to historic victory against world champions West Indies

Ireland stunned the Windies by four runs in the T20 opener.

Ireland batsman Paul Stirling.
Ireland batsman Paul Stirling.

PAUL STERLING’S BLISTERING 95 set up a thrilling four-run triumph for Ireland in the opening Twenty20 match against world champions the West Indies in Grenada.

Stirling clattered eight sixes and six fours in a 47-ball knock, putting on 154 alongside Kevin O’Brien (48) for the opening wicket – meaning the tourists’ eventual haul of 208-7 was relatively disappointing.

Evin Lewis was the only Windies batsman to pass fifty but muscular contributions from Shimron Hetmyer (28), Kieron Pollard (31), Nicholas Pooran and Sherfane Rutherford (both 26) took the contest to the wire.

Rutherford and Dwayne Bravo – making his first international appearance since 2016 – fell to impressive left-arm seamer Josh Little (3-29) in the final over as Ireland bounced back from defeat in the recent ODI series to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match rubber.

Their success was built upon the best powerplay score in T20I history as the openers stood on 83 without loss after six overs, Stirling having brought up his half century from 20 deliveries with his fifth six.

They duly brought up three figures in the next over but, after leg-spinner Hayden Walsh and Pollard took pace off the ball to slightly check the scoring rate, veteran all-rounder Bravo bowled O’Brien with a fine yorker that ducked in late.

Sterling mistimed a slog sweep off Walsh to be caught by Lewis five shy of a deserved century and Ireland never truly regained momentum.

Gareth Delany was their next highest scorer with 19, producing the shot of the innings with a glorious six over extra cover from Kesrick Williams, who returned a woeful 0-48 from three overs as Bravo, Khary Pierre and Sheldon Cottrell took two wickets apiece.

West Indies were unable to find a contribution of similar substance to Stirling’s at the top of the innings after George Dockrell pouched a stunning catch at deep point to remove Lendl Simmons for 22, with Little the beneficiary.

Lewis stormed to a sixth T20I fifty and was typically strong square of the wicket until he hit Craig Young to a scampering Harry Tector on 53.

Hetmyer looked in the mood with three towering sixes, only for an embattled Dockrell (1-51) to have him caught by captain Andy Balbirnie.

Pollard took up the mantle and kept his side up with the rate, although Dockrell continued to enjoy himself far more in the field and held on when the Windies skipper sent Simi Singh skyward.

The pattern continued with Pooran, who pulled Young (2-31) to Delany for 26 after the 18th over from Barry McCarthy (0-55) cost a damaging 27.

Rutherford found Dockrell’s unerring hands at wide long-on before Bravo – sensing a picture-book return – also went six and out as Little and further flawless catching in the deep saw Ireland home, the Windies finishing just short on 204-7.

“It was a really good pitch and I think we put a par score on which showed in the end, we felt we were in the game the whole way through,” said player of the match Stirling.

“It was touch and go, but we’re enjoying the tight games – we came out the right side this time, so it’s a nice feeling.

“I think there’s a huge different in mindset between T20 and ODI opening, here you have the chance to express yourself and really have fun, playing cricket as you did as a youngster and how you really want to play. Whereas in 50-over cricket you have to try and bat a little bit longer, but it was just really fun today.

“With the ball, I think we had to aim to take wickets really, it can be quite a daunting task when the big lads come in and you know how hard and far they hit it, so if we try get that wicket we can really squeeze them. The more wickets you get, the closer you get.”

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