|European Under 17 (Division 1) Championship: Northern Ireland, July 2008|
Ireland wins the Under-17 European title
On a dank, dark and miserable day in Belfast, Ireland cruised to a nine-wickets victory over Scotland at Stormont, thus regaining the Under 17 European Championships which they had lost to that same opposition in Dundee last year.
Chasing 196, Ireland lost only Andrew Balbirnie (86) and surpassed Scotland’s total with more than nine overs to spare, Stuart Thompson finishing unbeaten on 97.
Following an hour’s delay, and perhaps wishing to make immediate use of his team’s most obvious strength – opening batsmen Olly Hairs and Freddie Coleman – Scottish captain Calvin Burnett asked Ireland to field, and his faith in his top order was rapidly repaid as a typically belligerent first wicket stand of 66 got the Scots off to a flier.
Indeed, 61 of these had come in the first ten overs and at this stage Scotland were set for a considerable total, but with Hairs leaving Lee Nelson’s arm ball and losing his off stump, Graham McDonnell holding on to a superb return catch from Coleman (42 off 55 balls), and the same bowler removing Aman Bailwal first ball, all within the space of a few overs, 66 for 0 quickly became 81 for 3.
And though it may have been the case that the next stand, between Sam Hunt (44) and Richie Lamb, was worth 70 to the Scottish cause, the fact that it used up thirty overs stands as testament to how the Irish bowlers – from this point on – really turned the screw, refusing to allow the batsmen to break free.
Nelson conceded only twenty-seven runs from his full quota, and both McDonnell and Andrew Balbirnie returned highly respectable figures, but it was George Dockrell’s 4 for 26 which really reined in the Scots.
When the slow-left-armer removed Lamb for 24, with the score on 151, he thereafter proceeded to run through the lower order: only Calvin Burnett scored at anything close to a run a ball. Inevitably the pace picked up in the last ten overs, but the damage had been done earlier in the innings and the Scots closed on a below par 195.
After lunch, the manner in which Irish openers Balbirnie and Stuart Thompson was exemplary. At no stage did either look in any trouble, and though no Scottish bowler performed particularly poorly, the batsmen maintained a palpable ease at the crease.
Both of them patiently and sensibly chipped away at the runs required, running intelligently and working the singles when the bowling was tight, while effortlessly dispatching anything full, wide or short.
So in control was the pair that the number of half-chances which they offered could be counted on less than a full hand, and when the only clear-cut opportunity was presented to the Scots, Thompson was reprieved at mid-off.
Milestones, both personal and for the team, came and went and the mammoth partnership – worth 176 – ended only when Balbirnie was bowled by William Rowan for a magnificent 86, made from 127 balls and laced with eight boundaries.
With full international Paul Stirling coming in a no.3 the Irish were in little danger of throwing it away from here, and the only downside to their victorious denouement was perhaps that, when Thompson struck the winning boundary, he fell just three runs short of what would have been a truly exceptional century. His 97* came off just 106 balls and included eight fours.