Ireland give India a big scare but lose after winning hearts

He came 17 runs from the final and the choice against Hardik Pandya was to launch himself, give Axar Patel a chance or have the young Umran Malik. Unfortunately, or so it seemed initially, for Ireland the wrong batsman was on strike. Not rowdy George Dockrell whose blitz had nearly brought India to its knees, but lower-tier batsman Mark Adair.

Two point balls came when Malik produced two long, quick deliveries, but then that second point was a no-ball. Adair then broke two successive limits – a scythe through the toe and the old outside edge – and took a single to put Dockrell on strike. On 7-for-2, with the game on the line, Malik produced his best match point, a screaming yorker who narrowly missed the stumps and ran for the bye. Adair could only get a single off the last ball, a short shot out of distance, and India had won. Hardik smiled and Malik blew a kiss to the sky. Dockrell grimaced because he knew that he had missed a great opportunity to pull off a heist.

But before Dockrell, it was Stirling. And to understand what Stirling did, we have to go back to 2019 when he was in London, at his friends’ house, watching Ben Stokes on TV.

For some time now, Paul Stirling has wanted to be Stokes and play that memorable 2019 Ashes hit at Headingley. When Stokes showed off the match-winning cut and roared like a Viking, Sterling thought Stokes had reached the “pinnacle of the game”. In his mind, ever since, he has played that shot as if he were the Stokes himself.

On Wednesday, he didn’t do a Stokes at all because he didn’t finish, but it was he who started the audacious Irish assault on the Indian 219. impressive six over midwicket. The next ball was the outswinger, but Stirling was ready; this time, the burly hitter let his hands go across the line, covering the swing and hitting him up and over coverage. The next one disappeared to square leg back before he sliced โ€‹โ€‹one through the cover point as four bounds flowed out the other side.

Hardik Pandya entered with a gorilla, which was thrown backwards from beyond the limit of the thin leg. A couple more limits came and it was clear that Ireland was not going to be left with doubts. Sterling certainly wasn’t. He took out an incredible six in a row from the vegetarian Ravi Bishnoi: with his back foot on the bowler’s head, and even as he made contact with the ball, Sterling moved off to the side of the leg without even looking at the ball.

Even though he fell, missed a googly, he had lit the fire, and one after another, his teammates kept it burning brightly.

Captain Balbirnie’s call was an eclectic and confusing mix. There were point balls galore, but then he’d get poked from time to time with a whopping six-five of them. Every time it seemed like Balbirnie was fading, he would suddenly burst alive with a six on the side of his leg. Umran Malik’s keepers were beaten by a pair of sixes and Harshal Patel hit a six over the fine leg, but he fell to the side of the ball, caught in a deep spot.

But the Irish relay had passed to George Dockrell. On the air, Graeme Swann would say that when he played, Dockerll was just a player who could hit a little and he was taken aback by the version in front of him now. A low level hitter who rarely pitches. The Indians kept losing their nerve, offering full balls to the middle and leg, and Dockerell kept crushing them like India’s Deepak Hooda had earlier.

Shape-keeping hooda hits a ton

In Deepak Hooda, one can see a great example of the ‘Form’ that all hitters of the T20 generation talk about. The way they position themselves in the crease and the way they position their body as their hands move down the line. Of all the spanking blows that Hooda struck, two types of blows stood out for that ‘form’. Rising exits through the line rose straight up and jerks crisp.

The best example of the former came in the eighth inning against closer Conor Olphert. At which point Graeme Swann called it the hit shot, and it was. Even as he crackled it, he checked a few boxes for that form: the high left elbow that maintained body position even after bat-to-ball contact. Hooda, like hitters today, keeps pushing his hands through the shot, stretching it to its peak, never relaxing until the end. The upper part of the body remains firm, the head does not tilt up and that shape is maintained.

The second shot, the flip, was much more appealing to the packed crowd in the tree-lined park. Even there, there is a method and a science that stands out. As if it had been created by an animation artist. In fact, Hooda’s throw resembles the stickman’s throw in the effects of the video game Stick Cricket. His body also goes through similar movements, a feeling of firmness about it. In fact, whether it’s because of his bat or the sound broadcasters create these days, even the sound of the bat’s meaty contact with the ball on the flips sounds exactly like that game.

Or in other words, Hooda, like many hitters, scientifically creates violence. It is not a mere letting go, as in the old days, but a carefully crafted blow.

The crowd certainly loved Hooda’s jerks, especially when he sent one over them at midwicket and through the trees.

And his emotions came out when he reached the hundred mark, the fourth Indian after Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Suresh Raina to do so. He first gently hugged Suryakumar Yadav, before suddenly collapsing into a bear hug. He certainly has taken advantage of his opportunities in this series which he has followed after a good performance in the IPL.

Sublime Samson mixes style with substance

It seemed as if Sanju Samson had promised himself that he would not seek a ball-shooting frame of mind that he can sometimes get into and has gotten into the past to his detriment. Of all the silken shots that had the commentators and the gritty crowd gasping for joy, there was one nugget square drive in the seventh envelope that sticks in the mind.

Craig Young’s goofy 139 kmph ball off the starting line was pretty decent and for most of his run, Samson hadn’t moved much, if at all. There he was, waiting. And waiting. Or so it seemed. Suddenly, his hands moved to aesthetically kick the ball through the point of coverage. It was probably the best punch of his that he had multiple wrist strikes.

Unlike Hooda, Samson’s hitting is all fluidity, accentuated by his loose grip with his upper hand. All of the regular contact point of a Samson strike was on display: the look, the flick, the pull over the middle to a short ball long outside, and the jerks from the Gareth Delany leg spin, whose 4-0 figures -43 -0 hides the fact that he was the best bowler in sight. A couple of times he cut them short, the ball was thrown from the stands, but in the main part, Delany showed great heart. He completes consistency down a length, inviting hits and turning it around a bit to thwart hitters’ intent. Samson also unfurled a special shot against Delany. It was a nice leg break, spinning from the leg and midline, but Samson didn’t cross the line. Instead, he covered the turn and let her hands slide through the line and she flew up and over it to land on the vision screen.

In the end, it was Ireland who won hearts, but he tries to tell the dejected Dockrell the moment he realized he wasn’t going to end up with the treasure in the end after all the hard work. However, up to that last moment, Ireland had married with style, substance, courage, big heart and a lot of fight, and almost succeeded. Just 5 races away from a dream victory.

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