A third batting collapse in as many games saw Kieron Pollard’s West Indies go under to stand-in skipper Paul Stirling’s Ireland by two wickets at a sun-drenched Sabina Park in Jamaica yesterday.
The historic 2-1 win in the three-match ODI series catapulted the busy Irish, who have now played 18 games, into third place on the World Cup qualification table, above Australia in fourth and West Indies in fifth.
The seemingly unchallenging 212 the home side had posted after losing the toss for the third time and being sent in was well short of the 230 Ireland had easily overhauled in Game 2 on Thursday. But in perfect conditions for cricket on a track that had no demons, the visitors lost their first wicket off the first ball of their reply.
The out-of-form William Porterfield top-edged a short ball from Alzarri Joseph. A jubilant Hosein snaffled the catch inches from the third man boundary ropes.
If Jason Holder had held onto a sharp Stirling chance in the slips in Romario Shepherd’s first over, the second of the innings, the eventual result might have been different.
However, after that, steady, level-headed batting from Stirling (44 off 38, 5 x 4) and Andy McBrine (59 off 100, 1 x 6, 6 x 4) saw the tourists coast to within 23 runs of their 213 target without real alarums.
Ten overs were still left. And the elegant series top-scorer Harry Tector (52 off 76, 3 x 4), who had moved effortlessly on to his third half-century in the series, was solidly entrenched at one end.
But then, with the WI skipper doing little to force the issue, the Irish lost the plot. And four wickets fell for 20 runs in the space of five overs.
Inexperience? Simply nerves at the prospect of reaching a massive milestone with an unprecedented series win over a top-ten team?
Curtis Campher essayed an agricultural heave at Roston Chase and lost his middle stump. Then Tector, who had not put a foot wrong until then, opted inopportunely for a reverse sweep off the same bowler and was struck in front; the review could not save him.
Gareth Delany’s run down the pitch at Hosein gave Shamarh Brooks a high catch at backward point.
And when Jason Holder flung his 6’7” frame full length to his right at slip to hold on to an edge from George Dockrell, it became 208 for 8.
Pollard and his men, mere moments before seemingly resigned to the inevitable, were beside themselves with joy.
At 210 for 8, had Odean Smith, throwing his muscular self to his left at leg-slip, managed to get Craig Young’s flick in his grasp, WI might still have sealed an unlikely win.
They had a second chance when Young flicked Shepherd straight to Chase at short fine-leg and took off for a non-existent single. But with all three stumps to aim at, Chase missed.
Young steered the next delivery behind point for four to seal a historic win for his side.
Earlier, the WI had once more had to depend on a lower-order partnership to add respectability to their final tally. Shai Hope showed the class to which his impressive overall ODIs stats attest, slamming nine fours and a six in his 39-ball 53. Although his partner Justin Greaves (12 off 31b) once more looked out of his depth, the opening partnership put on a solid 70-plus before Hope fell.
From 72 for 1 in the 11th over when Hope pulled Young down to the square-leg boundary where Josh Little ran around to his left to take a good catch, Pollard’s side subsided to 117 for 7 in the 28th over.
Pooran (2 off 8) again looked completely out-of-sorts; Chase (19 off 31) and Brooks (1 off 6) could not build on the foundation. Pollard (3 off 17) too, mis-stumped by wicketkeeper Neil Rock off the first ball he received, looked ill at ease throughout his brief stay. He eventually succeeded in edging the consistent McBrine to leg-slip where Porterfield took a good one-handed catch.
It was left to Holder (44 off 60) and Hosein (23 off 36), again promoted above Smith and Alzarri Joseph, to stop the slide. Their 8th wicket partnership yielded 63 before Holder failed to beat Delany’s flat throw from the mid-wicket boundary.
Man-of-the Match and Man-of-the-Series McBrine troubled all the batsmen in his three spells, taking an excellent return catch to account for Hosein and finish with 4/28. Young chipped in with 3/43 in his three spells.
So those who have been calling for consistency from the WI white-ballers have more or less got it. The WI fielded an unchanged XI and again failed to reach 300, the par score in ODIs games these days. Pollard gave the new ball to Shepherd and Joseph instead of Holder and Hosein. That apart, he seemed at times to be merely going through the motions, unwilling to expend too much energy on the task at hand.
Smith, whose first over, number 7, cost 11 runs, was never called on again until over number 31. He was perhaps fortunate to remove McBrine, who feathered a catch through to Hope as he sought to uppercut a comfortable short-pitched delivery.
Pollard pulled him out of the attack after a two-over spell and never called him up again. It was an uncharacteristically low-energy performance from the West Indies skipper, who used Chase for ten consecutive overs from 24 to 44 at one end interrupted only by number 30 from Hosein and called on Holder for just one two-over spell.
And the short-leg so often employed for Hosein made not a single appearance today.
In the post-match interview, the skipper said it was ‘a sad day for West Indies cricket’ and suggested that the current problems cannot be solved by the efforts of those who represent the region on the field.
Only twice since 2006 have the Irish won a two-nation series away from home.They defeated Scotland in Scotland in 2009 and Afghanistan in the UAE in 2017/18.
Stirling praised his close-knit team for their efforts and speculated about the positive effects of the achievement on all concerned, including the absent skipper, Andrew Balbirnie. He would have been glued to his television set, the stand-in skipper said, taking in the spectacle and revelling vicariously in the moment.
A commenter on espncricinfo put into words the effect many think the tourists’ upset win might have on Pollard’s men.
“West Indies losing a series to Ireland could be a perfect wake-up call. But I don’t think they’ll wake up.”
Off the mark? Perhaps. We do not have long to wait.
At the end of the month, England’s Lions, their pride seriously damaged by the Ashes disaster, come a-calling.
West Indies: 212 all out (Shai Hope 53, Jason Holder 44, Akeal Hosein 23; Andy McBrine 4/28, C Young 3/43)
Ireland: 214 for 8 (Andy McBrine 59, Harry Tector 52, Paul Stirling 44; Roston Chase 3/44, Akeal Hosein 3/59)
Man-of-the-Match: Andy McBrine
Result: Ireland win by 2 wkts
Man-of-the-Series: Andy McBrine
Ireland take three-match series 2-1