Cricket: Stirling hits stunning ton to steal show for Ireland
PAUL STIRLING thrilled his home-town crowd with a brilliant century for Ireland in Belfast but Australia 'A' fought back strongly and are favourites to claim victory on the fourth and final day of a rain-effected tour game at Stormont.
Stirling, who can't get a four-day game for his county side Middlesex, treated his fans to a masterclass of clean hitting yesterday – striking 17 fours and a six in his 115 from 142 balls – before Ireland declared 126 runs behind on 186-4.
Australia quickly rattled up 174-0 in their second innings, thanks to a Nic Maddinson century, and the third declaration of the match set the home side 301 to win.
Stirling only managed one boundary second time around before he was caught behind off the pacy James Pattinson for six. Fellow opener John Anderson also fell to a Brad Haddin catch and Alex Cusack was caught at third slip to leave Ireland floundering on 51-3 at the close.
The flurry of late wickets left the Aussies well placed with Ireland needing another 250 for victory today, but nothing could take away from the pre-lunch performance of Stirling who simply flayed Pattinson and Peter Siddle – two of the pacemen likely to start the first Ashes Test against England next month.
If his six – top-edged over the keeper – perhaps had an element of good fortune, there was little flukey with a succession of off-side boundaries as the 22-year-old raced to his half-century from 44 balls and dominated the early scoring of the first Ireland innings.
Anderson, Cusack and James Shannon could manage only two runs between them, but by the time the third wicket fell, Ireland were 58-3 such was the run torrent from the meat of the bat at other end.
"I got a few hit-balls at the start when they didn't quite find their lengths and bowled too full or too short, but that's probably one of the better attacks I've faced," Stirling said. "Pattinson would have to be right up there with the quickest around at the moment."
Andrew White proved a steadying influence in a partnership of 96 and was the first to shake Stirling's hand when he reached his eighth century for Ireland – only William Porterfield, with nine, has more.
After Stirling was finally stumped off Nathan Lyon – another likely Ashes combatant – Kevin O'Brien declared, clearing the stage for Maddinson to provide more entertainment with six sixes in his 113 not out from only 63 balls.