Balbirnie leads the way as Ireland get World Cup bid off to a flier
Andy Balbirnie stroked a half-century of high quality in Harare yesterday to help beat the Netherlands by 93 runs (D/L method) and get Ireland off to the best possible start in Group A of the World Cup qualifiers.
Balbirnie's timing made light of a slow, untrustworthy pitch as he proceeded to a top score of 68, and with Niall O'Brien lifting two sixes in an equally impressive 49 from only 35 balls, the Boys in Green were able to post 268-7 - a good 30 runs better than par.
Prolonged rain showers saw the Netherlands asked to chase a reduced target of 243 from 41 overs - a total that would have been daunting from a full 50 overs - and a disciplined Irish bowling and fielding performance dismissed them for 149.
"We know the Dutch are dangerous, so to come out with a convincing win is a relief," Balbirnie said.
"It was a bit worrying when we saw the rain, and all the clouds around, but all in all we're pretty happy with that performance.
"I always enjoy batting with Niall; he keeps a level head out there and it's great to see him in form. He took the pressure off me."
William Porterfield was the most fluent of the early batsmen, hitting a succession of boundaries through and over the leg-side before he was lbw for 47, but it was Balbirnie's fourth-wicket partnership of 101 with O'Brien from 82 balls that deflated the Dutch.
O'Brien was his pugnacious best, middling one enormous blow over long-on and striking three consecutive fours before he was caught on the mid-wicket boundary, while his partner had struck four fours plus a six when he lifted his 75th ball to deep-backward square-leg.
The only blight on Balbirnie's day was a blow to the helmet, attempting to hook Ryan ten Doeschate, which left him unable to field, but a precautionary scan revealed no concussion and he returned to the ground to carry out his man-of-the-match interviews.
"I was on 30," he said. "It didn't affect me at the time but after I'd come off and had a break I started to feel dizzy with some blurred vision. I did a concussion test but the doctor wanted me to go to hospital for a scan but that came up clear."
The Dutch reply began badly as Tim Murtagh bowled Max O'Dowd first ball, one of three wickets for the Middlesex seamer, Kevin O'Brien removed the dangerous ten Doeschate lbw to much whooping and cheering, and Barry McCarthy yet again collected two wickets.
McCarthy also held a stunning catch, diving full length after chasing back at mid-off, while Kevin O'Brien claimed a run out from a direct hit.
After a couple of difficult years Ireland are looking a winning unit again.
There is a visible confidence flowing through the side and a growing belief that they can claim one of the two invitations on offer to next year's World Cup finals in England, especially after seeing Scotland cause a major upset by beating favourites Afghanistan in Group B.