Ireland will need a further 250 runs to win with seven wickets in hand on the final day of their first-class game against Australia A after a dramatic day’s play in Stormont on Sunday saw three declarations and two stunning centuries.
Paul Stirling enhanced his growing reputation further with a swashbuckling ton but despite trailing by 126 runs at tea, the hosts made a bold move in declaring in an attempt to move the game on after the majority of Saturday was washed out due to rain.
However, Australia quickly regained the ascendancy and momentum as opener Nic Maddinson bludgeoned a fifty-one ball century of his own to set Ireland a victory target of 301 as Brad Haddin opted to declare on 174 without loss.
Stirling couldn’t replicate his first-innings fireworks and was one of three wickets to fall late in the final session to put the tourists in pole position heading into the fourth and final day.
Following Australia A's overnight declaration on 312 for nine, 22-year-old Stirling took a distinct liking to the pace bowling of James Pattinson as he smashed three boundaries off the opening over to set the tone for a memorable innings.
Despite being hit to all corners of the Belfast venue, Pattinson held his nerve to find the outside edge of John Anderson (2) before Ashton Agar struck to remove both Alex Cusack and James Shannon without scoring.
But Stirling found an able ally in experienced all-rounder Andrew White (40 not out) as the pair moved the score past the 150 mark. The Middlesex batsman brought up his eighth century for Ireland off 110 balls which included 16 fours and one six before finally succumbing to the impressive Nathan Lyon for 115.
That wasn’t the end of the entertainment for the day however as Maddinson and opening partner Aaron Doolan (56 not out) went about scoring quick runs in an attempt to take the game away from Ireland.
What followed was a brutal assault by the New South Wales opener as he made Stirling's innings look positively pedestrian by smashing 113 from just 63 balls, which included 13 fours and six sixes.
His partnership with Doolan was worth 174 in just 122 balls before skipper Brad Haddin called off the carnage with the lead exactly 300.
As the clouds began to form over Stormont, Moises Henriques (2-7) dismissed Anderson (8) and Alex Cusack (15) after Pattinson had made the initial breakthrough as Stirling edged behind for just six, putting the visitors firmly in the ascendancy at stumps.
Speaking at the close of play, 21-year-old Maddinson expressed his delight after scoring just his fourth first-class century.
"I didn't play in the first game of the tour, so it feels like a long time since I've had a bat in a game. So it was good to get a few today and get us into a strong position," the left-hander said.
The New South Wales batsman struggled in the first innings in gloomy conditions and admitted batting was a lot easier second time around while the circumstances suited his positive mind-set.
"I think I play a lot better when I'm trying to be positive. So that was sort of just the way it worked out today. I think the pitch definitely flattened out from the first innings, and the ball wasn't swinging today.
“It’s not going to be easy for us to take seven wickets tomorrow. But the ones we got this evening have put is in a good position and we’re confident we can finish the job," he added.
© Cricket World 2013