Kevin O’Brien runs Zimbabwe ragged in series-levelling win

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A sparkling Kevin O’Brien half-century, his first for Ireland in 31 innings and nearly two years, laid the platform for a series-leveling win in the T20 series against Zimbabwe.

The last time he passed fifty in national colors, O’Brien carried onto a magnificent career-best 124 against Hong Kong.

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 much 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, with a six over the leg-side needing the delivery of a new ball.

O’Brien carved Richard Ngarava over the offside before swinging Tendai Chatara through his 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 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.

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 offside 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.

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.

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.

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