|European Division 1: Dublin, July 2008|
Ireland make hard work of defeating Italy
It might not have been pretty, but it was a victory nonetheless for the Irish today as they laboured to overcome a combative Italian side by four wickets at Malahide.
Posting 158 for 6 on a green and seaming wicket, the Italians were never really ahead in the match (or, tellingly, on Duckworth-Lewis), but it still took Paul Stirling’s second international half-century to guide Ireland to a win which they made much harder to secure than it should have been.
With the Irish invited to field by Joe Scuderi, each of Thinus Fourie, Kevin O’Brien and Alex Cusack bowled economically up front as the Italians struggled to use the power plays effectively: the new ball moved considerably, the Irish hit decent lengths and the early morning’s rain had somewhat slowed the outfield.
Within the first ten overs Andy Northcote and Thushara Kurukulasuriya had fallen leg before, while yesterday’s mainstay Peter Petricola was caught behind slashing against Cusack with the score on 54, leaving the Irish well on top.
And though the following partnership of 60 between skipper Joe Scuderi (29 off 67 balls) and Alessandro Bonora (31 off 95 balls) advanced the Italians to a creditable 114 for 3, it did use up more than twenty overs, the middle third of the innings becoming typically soporific.
Much of it was bowled in tandem by Waringstown spinners Kyle McCallan (10-1-20-0) and Gary Kidd (10-0-27-1). Between them they squeezed most of the life out of the Italians, who wanted for the ability to work the ball against good bowling, this problem exacerbated on what was ever more clearly a slow and low pitch.
The reins were kept on during the last ten as well, with the returning Cusack and O’Brien particularly parsimonious. Indeed, despite the gifts of several embarrassing lapses in the field and having five wickets in hand, no more than 38 runs accrued from when Scuderi was run out by Irish captain Porterfield in the forty-second over.
But even if the Irish fielding performance wasn’t quite electric, such was the speed with which they raced through their overs that they were required to see out half and hour before the scheduled lunch. Despite losing Porterfield, lbw to Andrew Northcote in the session’s final over, they did make excellent progress, making 45 in eight overs.
Soon after the lunch break Gary Wilson, having made a quickfire 32 (29 balls, five fours), was caught behind by Nick Northcote off his brother Andrew, but being 58 for 2 was no major cause for concern in the Irish camp.
At the other end, however, Peter Petricola was bowling excellently and, thanks to two consecutive wicket maidens, he took the game from 69 for 2 to 75 for 4. Alex Cusack fell first, caught by Joe Scuderi at second slip, while Reinhardt Strydom played across a straight one.
The saving grace for Ireland was that this had all happened within the first two power plays and consequently there was no undue pressure with respect to run rate. Andrew Poynter and Paul Stirling could therefore bat under little duress and put together a match-winning and panic-quelling stand of 60 before Poynter was bowled off his pads.
Stirling, who thanks to some manifest immobility from the Italians had been missed on several occasions, may have slowed down appreciably upon entering the 40s and Andrew White, who earlier had passed 2000 runs for Ireland, would not long after walk across his stumps as well, but victory had been all but assured by then.
Seventeen-year-old Stirling, who showed remarkable character under circumstances which at times were potentially rather testing, finished unbeaten on 56, his second-highest score for his country, while Kevin O’Brien – a more than useful number eight – brought things to a close with a neat nudge through mid-wicket for a couple.
Nevertheless, in spite of the two points and maintaining a thus far unblemished record, such an Irish performance – even on what was a levelling pitch – is unlikely to be similarly rewarded against Scotland on Thursday. Italy, on the other hand, continue to impress and should be confident of finishing in, at worst, joint fourth place.