Kevin O’Brien runs Zimbabwe ragged to claim series-levelling victory
A sparkling Kevin O’Brien half-century, his first for Ireland in 31 innings and nearly two years, laid the platform for a series-levelling win in the DafaNews T20 series against Zimbabwe at Clontarf.
Ireland Men v Zimbabwe Men, 2nd T20I DafaNews Cup, Castle Avenue, 29 August 2021
Zimbabwe 152-5 (20 overs; M Shumba 46*, R Burl 37*; S Getkate 3-20)
Ireland 153-3 (18.3 overs; K O’Brien 60, P Stirling 37; R Burl 2-24)
Result - Ireland won by 7 wickets (series 1-1)
The last time he passed fifty in national colours, O’Brien carried onto a magnificent career-best 124 against Hong Kong, and while he didn’t quite match those heights here, this was an innings no less important, faced with a stiff total. Ireland had fallen to a three-run defeat in the opener, with Zimbabwe making 117 on that occasion, but found chasing a target of 153 easier, in large part thanks to O’Brien’s efforts. The first delivery he faced struck him on the wrist and left him requiring treatment from the physios, but he shrugged off the blow to play a match-defining knock.
At first, however, it was Paul Stirling who did the majority of the scoring, with O’Brien content to turn the strike over to his opening partner. Stirling nudged his second ball fine for the first boundary of the innings, and peppered the boundary thereafter, with a crunching back-foot smash and a lofted off-drive finding the extra-cover rope in contrasting but equally authoritative manners, with a six over the leg-side necessitating the delivery of a new ball.
O’Brien carved Richard Ngarava over the off-side before swinging Tendai Chatara through leg to prove his own form, but did enjoy one moment of fortune, dropped by Craig Ervine running back from mid-off, with the ball popping out of the Zimbabwe skipper’s grasp and rolling into the rope.
By the end of the powerplay, Ireland had 53, with Stirling 31 off 27 and O’Brien 15 off 11. Two balls later, six had been added to the total but Stirling had been dismissed, with Ryan Burl dragging one down and punished before finding the inside-edge through to the keeper.
Andrew Balbirnie joined O’Brien to steady the ship, with their 18-run stand occupying four overs and containing a solitary boundary, O’Brien sweeping Milton Shumba behind square. Balbirnie dragged Burl onto the stumps, but the entrance of George Dockrell injected some spark into the innings, with he and O’Brien running Zimbabwe ragged.
Their partnership contained five twos and a three, with pressure mounting on the touring side. O’Brien managed to find the boundary regularly too, bringing up a special half-century in perfect style, lofting Wellington Masakadza gloriously over extra-cover for six.
He fell not long after, caught at mid-off off Shumba, and another tense finish looked on the cards with Harry Tector and Dockrell rotating the strike, and 12 required from the last two overs. But in a flash it was over, with Dockrell finding the fence three times in three deliveries, and victory had been secured with seven wickets and nine balls to spare.
Earlier, Ireland had begun strongly, pegging Zimbabwe back regularly after a 35-run opening stand between Wessley Madhevere and Tadiwanashe Marumani, only for an unbeaten sixth-wicket partnership to see Zimbabwe claim the ascendancy. Shane Getkate, the pick of the Irish bowlers, made the first breakthrough, Neil Rock settling under a spiralling top-edge from Madhevere, before Tector effected a special run out to see off Marumani. Sprinting in from the boundary as Regis Chakabva hared back for a second, Tector picked up and threw in one fluid motion, nailing the stumps direct to catch the opener short.
Out of the powerplay, Getkate struck again, bowling Dion Myers with a ball that came back in, and all of a sudden Zimbabwe had lost three wickets for six runs. Ervine briefly threatened to mount a resistance, striking two boundaries in his 12-ball stay, but Ben White removed him, the leg-spinner pinning the Zimbabwe skipper lbw for his maiden international wicket, the perfect gift on his 23rd birthday.
At the halfway stage, Zimbabwe were 64-4, and one delivery later that became 64-5, a leading edge from Chakabva looping up into the off-side where Stirling took a one-handed catch at full stretch. The grab gave Getkate his third wicket, and he finished with career-best figures of 3-20 - he had never before taken more than two in an innings for Ireland.
However, having dominated the opening half of the innings, Ireland could find no way through the sixth-wicket stand between Shumba and Burl. After a quiet over from Simi Singh, it was a six off Getkate that got the fightback underway. Burl skipped down the track, launching high and handsome over the straight boundary and into the houses behind.
Eight runs came in that and each of the following two overs, before another six, slog-swept by Burl off White over deep midwicket helped Zimbabwe accelerate further. However, while the partnership contained a further two sixes, each from the bat of Shumba, the highlights were undoubtedly a pair of reverse-swatted fours, with short balls ‘pulled’ through third man effectively.
Zimbabwe ended with 152-5, the pair having put on 88 runs in just under 10 overs, and took the momentum into the innings break. But O’Brien would ensure that it was Ireland who claimed victory.
On a less positive note, Ireland’s medical staff have confirmed Curtis Campher injured his left shoulder in the field in last Friday’s game and was forced to withdraw from the second match. Scans have revealed a sprain of the AC joint with some associated ligament damage. He will miss the rest of the T20I series and see a specialist as a precautionary measure.
©Cricket World 2021