Paul Stirling’s ninth ODI hundred helped Ireland hunt down a target of 329 against the 2019 World Cup winners.
Paul Stirling 142 (128)
England v Ireland, 3rd ODI
Ageas Bowl, Southampton
Things just hadn’t clicked for Ireland. A scoreline of 28-5 meant they were never really in with a shout in the first ODI. In the second they’d rallied to 212 and had England on 137-6, but Sam Billings and David Willey were having none of it. Halfway through the third, England had 328 and their old boy had done the damage: Eoin Morgan’s 84-ball 106 was some watch.
A key reason for Ireland’s failings had been a lack of runs from the men who ran the show: captain Andrew Balbirnie and his deputy, Paul Stirling. New kid on the block Curtis Campher had been the starring man in the series, hitting half-centuries and haunting Tom Banton. Elsewhere, Balbirnie and Stirling had combined for the meagre sum of 32 runs.
But with Ireland needing to pull off a record chase to salvage something from the bio-bubble – and collect some Super League points too – seniority had to count for something more, and Stirling got the message.
Partnered up with Gareth Delany’s slugger backlift at the other end, it was Stirling who cracked out the homers, back-to-back sixes off Saqib Mahmood giving some kick to the innings after the vice-captain had begun to get his eye in.
While Balbirnie arrived in the 10th over, Stirling was still the one to watch, particularly when Adil Rashid – who had been more than a handful in the first couple of matches – entered the fray. You didn’t have to be a brainbox to read Stirling’s thoughts: “Toss it up, Rash, and I’ll send you over cow.” When the Irishman got on one knee, there was nothing romantic about it; he wanted to give it a whack and so he did, taking three sixes off England’s most potent weapon in a riveting duel.
A James Vince drop on 95 provided Stirling with a bit of luck he thoroughly deserved, and his ton would be brought up in the following over. With 158 still required, there was no time for easing up, and Stirling’s subsequent takedown of Willey was thrilling viewing. The left-armer had won the battle between the two in the first two ODIs, but Stirling hit back this time round, thumping the first ball of the 34th over down the ground for four before unleashing the shot of the innings two overs later: a premeditated shuffle to the off-side set Stirling up for the slog-sweep over midwicket, and he thoroughly nailed it.
Balbirnie reached his own century in the 42nd over but a mix-up between the pair just moments later saw Stirling run out at the non-striker’s end, a tame end to a destructive knock. The skipper then fell with 50 needed from 33, and suddenly all that good work looked set to go to waste. But in a storybook finish, Kevin O’Brien, the hero nine years earlier, joined forces with young Harry Tector to take Ireland home against the world champions. While he missed the photo finish, Stirling, one of Irish cricket’s greats, had scripted a historic win.
0.3 David Willey to Paul Stirling, 4 runs
With more than a run a ball required, Ireland can’t afford to sit and wait around at the start of their chase. Fortunately for the visitors, Stirling has all the impatience required of a white-ball exhibitionist, and he cracks open his account for the day with a gorgeously timed drive past Sam Billings at cover. A masterful knock is underway.