The Ireland Men's cricket team began their T20 World Cup Qualifier campaign with a thumping eight-wicket win over Hong Kong in Abu Dhabi today.
After losing the toss and bowling first, Ireland went out in 34-degree heat seeking a positive bowling performance to start their tournament and 22-year old leg-spinner Gareth Delany struck first, removing opener Nizakat Khan for 1.
Kinchit Shah then came to the crease and proceeded to power to his highest T20I score of 79 from 54 balls. Shah played all around the ground, combating the Irish bowling by shuffling around the crease and hitting through the line, especially against the pace bowlers.
The Hong Kong batters turned the strike over regularly, but couldn’t find a way to hit regular boundaries – thanks in large part to an Irish attack using change-up balls, and varying their pace and length well.
Mark Adair led the line, taking 2-22 from four impressive overs, and was well supported by Boyd Rankin, who bowled a miserly 0-18 from 4 overs. They were backed-up by the spinners Gareth Delany (1-23 from three overs) and George Dockrell, 0-21 from three overs, who applied the screws in the middle overs.
Hong Kong finished on 153-5 from their 20 overs, 20-25 runs short of par for this pitch.
In response, Ireland started with a blast – Paul Stirling smashing a six off the first ball – but lost Kevin O’Brien in the first over, run out without facing a ball.
Andy Balbirnie then joined Stirling and the pair piled on the runs. Stirling was the chief aggressor, bringing up his 14th career T20I half-century from just 26 balls, while Balbirnie played a number of great shots and ticked over at a run-a-ball in support.
The two batsmen put on an 86-run stand from 60 balls, but on 62, Stirling miscued a drive and was caught.
However, the run onslaught did not abate, as Balbirnie and the incoming Harry Tector (21*) continued the run chase in style. Balbirnie passed the 50-mark as well – his fourth T20I half-century - and his 70* from 53 balls led Ireland to victory by eight wickets.
Player of the Match Stirling said after the game: "It’s nice to get a first win on the board, hopefully we can go on from here and keep winning.
"It was nice to get off to a quick start, you always feel like you’re in control of the innings when you get off to a quick start like that. It’s a very nice pitch, you always expect a good one at the start of a tournament when they’re fresh – especially in the afternoon when the sun comes out."
Ireland face hosts UAE tomorrow before further Group B games against Oman (Monday), Canada (Wednesday), Jersey (next Friday) and Nigeria (next Saturday).
Graham Ford's side will need to reach the semi-finals of the 14-team competition to book their place at next year's tournament in Australia.
Ireland failed to qualify for the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 but have appeared at every edition of the tournament since.