Australia secured victory over Ireland in the T20 World Cup – but still have work to do

Australia began their night in Brisbane needing to pulverize Ireland. There were no two ways about it: not in the fourth of five matches in the T20 World Cup group stage, with the bit of net run rate the hosts needed to catch up with England.

Halfway through the night the chance was there with Ireland 25 for five in reply to a middle-class 179. By the end of the night it had slipped away, with young Irish wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker playing an innings of consummate class to make 71 not out to take Ireland for 137 all out: not a winning total but enough to leave a mark on Australia’s campaign.

The first thorn in the side for the home side was that Ireland won the toss and elected to bowl, given that a run-rate boost is more feasible when chasing a small target quickly while batting first requires a huge total to defend.

The other wicket was the opening batting – so long a strength, with Aaron Finch and David Warner putting on more than 1,700 T20 runs together over the course of a decade.

The last over has been a struggle though, and Warner fell quickly as he has every time this tournament, cutting Barry McCarthy’s first ball to short fine leg for three. Finch started better than his long and frustrating night against Sri Lanka last Tuesday, hitting a big six early on, but his innings still crept audibly to 40 off 36 balls before some late hits took him to 63, caught on the boundary to give McCarthy his third .

Meanwhile, Mitchell Marsh had some clean hits in his 28, and looks to have the goods to produce another World Cup special at some point, but he took a cut from McCarthy. Glenn Maxwell had a typically frantic over against leg-spinner Gareth Delany: out lbw and bowled it, not out lbw and survived a review, missed freebies outside leg-stump before hurling a better ball into the sight screen. But it was another quick innings that fell too short, tempted by width from Josh Little’s pace to give Tucker a second catch.

Ireland's Barry McCarthy tunes in at the Gabba.
Ireland’s Barry McCarthy tunes in at the Gabba. Photo: Darren England/EPA

That left Marcus Stoinis to pick up where he left off in Perth, with a clinic of straight punches. The memo to keep him away from spinners had been slipped under the wrong door when he laced four and lifted a six off Delany, although he was hardly less punishing against seamer Mark Adair, who hit a straight run that deserved the ‘tracer bullet’ tag , and then hit so big that only aerial acrobatics from McCarthy kept it from clearing the rope. He enjoyed fortune with two attempted catches at deep cover until he ruled Little in the hands at backward point in the 19th over.

Tim David and Matthew Wade did a job, but the end result still looked underpowered. It looked more so after Andrew Balbirnie pulled Josh Hazlewood for six over fine leg, and Paul Stirling hit a monster shot from Pat Cummins into the midwicket crowd. But 17 off the first nine deliveries gave way to five wickets for seven runs in 13 balls.

Balbirnie went way too far over, tried the unorthodox method of playing Cummins from outside his off stump, and lost all three stumps instead. The Powerplay introduction of Maxwell’s off-spin was a masterstroke: Stirling drove him to mid-off, Harry Tector pulled him to mid-wicket. Mitchell Starc followed up with a double-wicket maiden, full and quick and swinging to smash the stumps of Curtis Campher and George Dockrell.

Pat Cummins (right) of Australia celebrates with Ashton Agar (left) after catching Paul Stirling of Ireland.
Pat Cummins (right) of Australia celebrates with Ashton Agar (left) after catching Paul Stirling of Ireland. Photo: Darren England/AAP

Ireland were 25 for five, and keeping them below 80 would have sent Australia’s run rate ahead of England’s. The small sample size of matches means that the measure is volatile. It also meant that Tucker could wreck Australia’s plans, dominate productive partnerships with Delany, Adair and McCarthy, and expand in ambition as he went along. He was particularly tough on Starc, removing seven boundaries, including an exquisitely threaded extra-cover drive and a brave ramp. He also beat Hazlewood to the second tier of the Gabba.

For a moment, the win was a glimmer of possibility, with Ireland needing 44 from the last three overs. But McCarthy was caught in the deep off Cummins, and last batter Josh Little was unable to bring Tucker back on strike, eventually ending the quest.

Australia got the two points but at the expense of the injury aftermath, with David and Finch reporting hamstring concerns and Stoinis with his history of side strains leaving the field after bowling an over.

The final group stage game for Australia is against Afghanistan on Friday, and once again a big margin will be the goal. Run-rate calculations could be invalidated if New Zealand beat England on Tuesday, but either way this patchy Australian campaign still has a lot to do.

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