Despite an unbeaten 131 by Paul Stirling, Ireland fell to a disappointing six-wicket defeat to the UAE in the first of the One Day Cricket Internationals in Abu Dhabi.
Ireland made 269 for 5 from their 50 overs thanks to an unbeaten century by opener Stirling, but in reply the UAE made their target with six wickets and balls to spare as CP Rizwan (109) and Muhammad Usman (102 Not Out*) put on a UAE record 184-run partnership to help seal their maiden ODI win against Ireland.
Earlier in the day, Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie won the toss and decided to bat, elevating Kevin O'Brien to open the batting along with Paul Stirling, with Gareth Delaney dropping down the order.
O'Brien and Stirling provided their side with a steady start, sharing a 39-run stand before losing O'Brien in the eighth over. He became UAE debutant Kashif Daud's maiden ODI victim, who had the opener clean bowled for 23.
The wicket brought Balbirnie to the crease to join forces with Stirling, and together they stitched a solid century stand, with both the batsmen reaching their 50s along the way. They kept the scoreboard ticking over at a rapid pace en route to a 102-run second-wicket stand
Balbirnie, who made his 10th half-century in ODIs, was dismissed for 53. The Ireland captain was looking for a slog sweep but Ahmed Raza managed to turn the ball away, and got the top edge as UAE 'keeper Aravind took an easy catch.
Match summary. pic.twitter.com/KgnIhTI3pE— Cricket Ireland (@Irelandcricket) January 8, 2021
From 141-1, Ireland slipped to 159-4, losing Balbirnie, Harry Tector (6) and Lorcan Tucker (4) in quick succession, with Rohan Mustafa accounting for the last two wickets.
Curtis Campher, the No 6 batsman, contributed with important runs, 24 from 30, before becoming Palaniapan Meiyappan's only victim of the day.
Stirling though was Ireland's star batsman, smashing a sensational 131* from 148 and also passing 9,000 runs for Ireland across all formats in the process, becoming only the second Irish batsman to reach the landmark after William Porterfield.
Chasing 270, the hosts got off to a shaky start losing their openers, Vriitya Aravind (14) and Zawar Farid (15), inside the first eight overs, with Barry McCarthy accounting for both the wickets.
UAE lost another wicket when Curtis Campher had Alishan Sharafu caught behind for one in the 13th over, reducing the hosts to 52-3.
Ireland looked in total control before Rizwan and Usman came together and changed the course of the game. The duo made the visitors' bowlers toil, with both the batsmen smashing maiden hundreds.
The visitors kept hunting for a breakthrough - which came courtesy of a sensational catch by Harry Tector in the 46th over - but it was too late.
Rizwan (109) shared a 184-run stand with Usman – the highest by a UAE pair for any wicket in ODIs. Usman reached his hundred in the penultimate over and hit the winning runs, as he remained unbeaten on 105.
Ireland's second match of the four day series against the UAE is on Sunday at 5.30am Irish time.
Ireland 269-5: (50 overs; P Stirling 131*, A Balbirnie 53; R Mustafa 2-43)
UAE 273-4: (49 overs; C Rizwan 109, M Usman 105*; C Campher 2-31, B McCarthy 2-63)