Ireland’s hopes of convincing the ICC they are deserving of a World Cup place were undermined by a thumping seven-wicket defeat to Pakistan in the first ODI in Belfast on Saturday.
Ireland were bowled out for just 96, with young left-armer Junaid Khan claiming career-best figures of four for 12, before the tourists eased past the total with 51 balls to spare.
The defeat was as one-sided as it was untimely for the Irish just a month before an ICC chief executive committee is due to discuss the possibility of overturning a decision to omit the associate countries from the next World Cup in 2015.
That decision was met with widespread condemnation in April after Ireland had proved themselves worthy of cricket’s top table at this year’s World Cup when they most memorably beat England.
Today’s defeat, however, betrayed those performances on the sub-continent and a dismal batting display, which saw them bowled out for their lowest total since Australia skittled them for 91 at the 2007 World Cup, may have left them with some convincing left to do in Monday’s final game of the short series.
Ireland could, however, claim they lost an important toss after 21-year-old Junaid, who had only taken three wickets in his young international career before today, revelled on a Stormont wicket that offered the seamers plenty of assistance after rain had delayed the start by just over three hours.
The home batsmen hardly helped their own cause, though, as they surprisingly opted to play their shots despite the conditions.
That strategy initially paid dividends when nuggety opener Paul Stirling thrashed 39 from 22 balls, but when he became Junaid’s first victim the wickets fell at regular intervals thereafter.
Junaid next skittled Alex Cusack’s stumps before he had scored, while Umar Gul found skipper William Porterfield’s edge.
Ireland’s star man at the World Cup Kevin O’Brien showed signs he was intent on following Stirling’s lead with a couple of muscled strikes, but his stumps were also sent cartwheeling by Junaid before he found full flow.
And when Khan then located Andrew White’s edge next ball Ireland found themselves deep in trouble at 66 for six before the rain arrived again.
That offered the hosts a 20-minute reprieve, but with their top order having already succumbed in the hour beforehand, the wickets continued to fall and Saeed Ajmal cleaned up the tail to finish with three for seven as Ireland last only 20 of the rain-reduced 36 overs.
Pakistan’s openers Taufeeq Umar and Hafeez took a cautious approach to the chase, which straddled the lunch break after Ireland’s early demise.
The pair took until the 15th over to bring up the 50 with their only moment of concern before when Taufeeq edged Trent Johnston to Stirling at first slip, only for a no-ball to be called.
Ireland did finally get a breakthrough, albeit with just 22 required, when Taufeeq again offered a low chance to Stirling at slip off Cusack to depart for a laboured 23 from 62 balls.
Hafeez brought up his half-century soon after, with his seventh four, but fell next ball bowled by Cusack who then also picked up Asad Shafiq to finish with three for 13.
That left it to skipper Misbah-ul-Haq and veteran Younus Khan to guide the tourists home with plenty of time to spare.
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