Paul Stirling and Mohammad Hafeez traded classy tons as Ireland battled Pakistan to a tie in a game of high-quality cricket. It was a touch harsh on the hosts, especially Kevin O'Brien, who played a scintillating knock, as they scored more runs but missed an outright win only by the vagaries of Duckworth-Lewis rules
Match-report: 1st ODI: Ireland v Pakistan at Dublin, May 23, 2013
On a damp day, Mohammad Hafeez showed the virtues of old-fashioned grit as he first hauled Pakistan out of an iffy start and then used his street-smart shot making to launch them towards a big total. The start was rough, as Imran Farhat got out to the first flashy drive he attempted, and Nasir Jamshed retired hurt soon after. Effectively 33/2 after 13 overs, it cried out for a Hafeez special and he didn't disappoint. He swiftly injected some life as he counter-punched with four fours to rapidly move to 25 off 27 balls. After the pacers Johnston and Murtagh ended their fine first spell, they targeted Kevin O'Brien and Cusack to run quickly, and punish the lose balls. Just like that, the hundred came up in 25th over. Young Dockrell yet again impressed with his smart use of flight and spin, but the partnership swelled. It was quality stuff from Hafeez, given the rain and hail-storm interruptions which did not make it easy.
The return of Johnston did little to allay the concerns, by now Hafeez's drives and steers were working in fine form. Shafiq too, played some pleasing drives - one driven off backfoot against Johnston stood out for it's timing. Dockrell's last three overs weren't spared either, from 18 off 7 overs, he went for 27 more in last three as Hafeez punished him by repeatedly using his feet. Just as Pakistan looked to step up a gear, Shafiq tried an ungainly heave which ended his fine innings. O'Brien came back to snaffle two more as Nasir hammered a full toss straight to the fielder and Misbah bagged a diamond duck. Hafeez though, smoothly completed his ton, before launching twice over deep midwicket fence, the latter going for a six. His strike rate effortlessly crept up over run-a-ball. Kamran Akmal hit three boundaries in his short stay but it was Hafeez who put the final flourish with a boundary off the last ball to take Pakistan to a hefty 266/5. The target became 276 by D/L adjustment, a minor detail at that point but one which would assume great significance later in the day.
Ireland though, have been the best of the associate teams for a reason. Paul Stirling and Porterfield began with calm coolth, which belied their inexperience and the tough ask. Stirling, in particular hit some classy shots first up, beginning with an arrow-straight drive, a strong pull and couple of pleasing cover drives, all finding the fence. Ireland proceeded sedately to the fifty partnership before that man Hafeez struck with the ball too, getting Porterfield to chip a catch to midwicket. Stirling continued to punish the lose balls to reach his fifty, and the experienced Ed Joyce gave him steady support in a fifty partnership as they kept the asking rate within sights. Stirling went on to score a classy ton of his own to carry Ireland within nearly hundred runs of the target when Irfan got him out. Hafeez struck again to bowl Joyce.
That however, brought Kevin O'Brien to the crease, a man whose storming ton in the previous World Cup had blind-sided a formidable English attack. He wasted little time, flicking his first ball to fine-leg fence before slog-sweeping Ajmal for a huge six over midwicket. Back-to-back fours against Irfan and more boundaries against Ajmal gave the local crowd their voice as he brought the target down to 48 off 34! O'Brien soon raced to a rapid fifty off 28 balls, as he continued to punish Ajmal and Junaid, two of Pakistan's best bowlers. Wilson fell to Junaid and his brother Niall O'Brien fell soon after. O'Brien though, continued his irrepressible assault, even as the asking rate soared to 15 for the last over. When Ajmal bowled a dot first ball, you would think Pakistan had the whip, but O'Brien hacked a monstrous six, and then a four off the last ball over midwicket to ensue raucous celebrations.
Few would dispute Ireland emerged as the better team in the encounter, and were denied an outright win only by the vagaries of rain rules. O'Brien's 47-ball blinder would definitely count right up there with his match-winning World Cup century (2011). Pakistan, on the other hand - would know that they lucked out, riding on Hafeez and Shafiq. Their bowlers (including the world's top spinner Ajmal) were taken to cleaners. It was a day when the Irish could claim, come hail or shine (literally) - they were here to stay.
Scorecard: Pakistan 266/5 (Hafeez 122*, Shafiq 84, Cusack 2/50) vs Ireland 275/5 in 47 overs(Stirling 103, Kevin O'Brien 84*, Hafeez 2/34)
Player(s) of the day: Kevin O'Brien, Paul Stirling (IRE), Mohd. Hafeez (PAK)
Disappointment of the day: Saeed Ajmal (PAK)