A fascinating tale of Irish pluck versus Ravichandran ‘offspin’ Ashwin played out at Seddon Park on Tuesday in the clash between an Associate team and defending champs India.
Ireland were bowled out for 259 in 49 overs, having looked good for more.
They took the fight to India before faltering against spin, but at no point did the ‘Best Team in Europe’ (as spotted on a cheeky poster in the stands) take the foot off the scoring pedal.
After a rousing start, Ireland struggled when Indian skipper MS Dhoni introduced spin. Dhoni was in his element, shouting instructions in Hindi as he spun the spin web through Ashwin and Suresh Raina around the Irish.
Ireland reached a respectable 212/5 at the end of the 40th over, giving themselves a solid platform for a final flourish.
The Irish, however, lost their enforcer Kevin O’Brien for 1 in the 40th over. Kevin — holder of the fastest World Cup century record (off 50 balls against England in 2011) —edged Mohammed Shami to Dhoni behind the stumps.
Kevin’s brother Niall O’Brien did not slow down. He punished India with assured hits all around the ground and raced past his half-century before falling for a run-a-ball 75.
Dhoni turned to spin after pacers went for plenty initially.
Ashwin gave the defending champions the breakthrough with the last ball of the 15th over, getting opener Paul Stirling to hole out to Ajinkya Rahane at long-off after scoring an enterprising 42 off 41 balls.
India had their second wicket in the 18th over when Suresh Raina bowled Ed Joyce for 2.
Irish skipper William Porterfield held strong for 67 before a leading edge to Mohit Sharma in the 32nd over was pouched by Umesh Yadav at mid-off.
Stirling fell with the Irish score on 89 and Joyce was back in the hut at 92, giving India the breathing space. India got their third wicket in Porterfield with the Irish score at 145.
Andy Balbirnie was the next to go with the Irish score at 206. Kevin fell two runs later and Gary Wilson went with the total at 222. Niall fell at 226 and Virat Kohli ran out Stuart Thompson a run later.
Yadav had George Dockrell caught by Dhoni for 6, with the Irish total on 238. Alex Cusack was the last to fall after scoring 11.
Ireland lost momentum after losing too many wickets too quickly. Indian pacers returned to chip away after the spinners had done the job. Shami claimed the wickets of the O’Brien brothers.
Earlier, Porterfield won the toss and chose to bat. He and Stirling got off to a brisk start, taking on Indian fast bowlers Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Sharma with intent.
Ireland, fighting for a knockout berth, brought up their 50 in the 8th over, throwing all pre-match talk of a possible mismatch out of the equation.
Boundaries flowed from Porterfield and Stirling, who went neck and neck. At the end of the 8th over, both had three boundaries and a six.
Porterfield hooked Yadav for a big six over square leg in the 3rd over and followed it up with a classy drive down the ground for four the next ball.
Not to be outdone, Stirling took on Shami in similar style in the 4th over, sending the fourth ball of the over soaring over forward square leg boundary for a six.
The run fest ended with the introduction of spin. Ireland went past 100 in the 22nd over and brought up the 150 in the 33rd.
India went into the match with an unchanged side, deciding not to test their bench strength.