|European Under 17 (Division 1) Championship: Northern Ireland, July 2008|
Ireland win their opening game
With Jersey waiting until tomorrow to debut in the 1st Division of the U-17 European Championships, it was the Netherlands who today met host nation Ireland in Group Bs first match at Downpatrick.
Even though Dutch skipper Floris Kingma had won the toss and elected to bat on a typically firm pitch at The Meadow, he might well have been regretting his decision early doors as he saw his side lurch to 18 for 3, all the wickets falling to the impressive Nick Donnell.
Firstly, in the second over, Tobias Visee spooned up a catch to the Irish skipper Lee Nelson off the leading edge. Dennis Coster was then comprehensively castled before no.4 Philip van der Brandeler failed to keep out a leg-stump yorker.
It was from this precarious position that Quirijn Gunning and Tim Gruijters staged something of a recovery, taking the score to 45, only for the former to fall at this point, sharply held by Craig Averill at a wide slip off the bowling of Graham McDonnell.
Indeed, in a way this partnership set the tone for the next couple of stands: that between Matthijs Luten and Gruijters (ended when Gruijters mishit George Dockrell to cover) and then that between Luten and his captain, Kingma.
Although they kept the wheels on the track, neither of these partnerships each suffocated by the accurate Irish attack managed to take the game by the collar of the neck, or even to last sufficiently long to threaten this.
Consequently, when Donnell returned to clean up Luten and so spark a collapse in which three wickets fell for as many runs, the Dutch at 106 for 8 - were staring down the barrel of being shot out for an ignominiously low total.
It had been the Irish captain Nelson whose off-spin leaked only thirteen runs throughout his full spell who took the last of these three quick wickets, deservedly snaring Emile van den Burg behind, but from here he saw his team release the considerable pressure under which they had put the Dutch.
Most notably it was the fielding which slipped, with numerous overthrows being given away following missed run out opportunities. This should not, however, detract from how Dutch skipper Kingma who finished unbeaten on 32 and no. 10 Nicolaas Vieler batted intelligently, putting on 47 for the ninth wicket.
Yet, in spite of this admirable rearguard action, 153 was still unlikely to be enough, and if any successful defence was to be made, a glut of early wickets was imperative.
At some stages there may have been hope: in the fifth over Nelson had feathered one behind to Tobias Visee off Wajdan Alim, while Dean McCarter slapped Floris Coster straight to Nicolaas Vieler at mid-on to leave Ireland looking uncertain at 41 for 2.
But these causes for excitement were the exceptions rather than the rule, and taking just two early wickets was never likely to seriously endanger the Irish chase. Once Andrew Balbirnie a centurion at this level in Aberdeen last year and senior international Paul Stirling had got themselves in, only they were likely to get themselves out on such a placid pitch.
Stirling was immediately brutal with anything wide or short, repeatedly punishing the bowlers through the covers, while Balbirnie forced away the change bowlers with ease and elegantly swept when spin was brought into the attack.
Both innings were nigh-on chanceless, and once past the hundred mark the accelerator was well and truly floored. Stirling launched into the Dutch medium-pacers with a series of imperious lofted drives, several shots endangering the cars passing on the Strangford Road, and reached his half-century not far shy of the half-way mark.
Balbirnie would soon raise his bat as well, passing fifty with a clip through mid-wicket, and these two would remain at the crease when the Dutch total was soon afterwards overtaken courtesy of consecutive wides with more than twenty overs to spare and eight wickets in hand.
Perhaps if either of these two had fallen early in their innings the story may have been different, but Irelands performance today has certainly justified their status as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
With regards to the Dutch, they will need someone in the top order to make a considerable contribution over the next few days if they are to challenge for honours, but the application shown today shows that the will is there. Come Wednesday, and their clash with Jersey, they may well be a tougher proposition.