|Twenty20 World Cup Qualifier, UAE 2012|
Sky the limit for Stirling
Ger Siggins (Irish Daily Star)
The Sky is the limit for Irish batsman Paul Stirling after his amazing innings won Ireland the World Twenty20 qualifier final. His 79 off just 38 balls made the Afghanistan target of 153 look easy as Ireland strolled home with eight balls to spare.
"That was a knock to be out up there with the Chris Gayles and Virender Sehwags of this world," said coach Phil Simmons.
"He's as good as any of the big batsmen of the world in twenty20 cricket. He's maturing so nicely that I'm looking forward to what he can produce in the T20 World Cup."
Stirling watched from the far end as the Afghans' fearsome fast bowler Dawlat Zadran bowled William Porterfield with the first ball of the innings. But Irish fans only saw the setback as an omen - 'Purdy' had a similar fate in the win over England in Bangalore last year.
Stirling set about the bowling, hitting his first three balls for four, and taking 17 off one over from Dawlatzai.
"I think we came out positively," he said afterwards.
"Under the lights, the ball came up well. Afghanistan has strong bowling, one of the strongest team attacks in the tournament. But the wicket suited my style. It was my first time playing under lights and tonight showed that the runs go up when you play later in the day.”
He brought up his fifty off just 17 balls, smashing the Irish record that has been broken three times in a week. It was the second fastest T20 fifty of all time, behind only Yuvraj Singh's twelve ball trashing of England in 2007. The big Indian - currently undergoing cancer treatment - hit six sixes off one over from Stuart Broad in that innings.
Stirling continued to flay the ball to all parts - including three sixes - but an interruption when security guards had to quell a scrap between Afghan and Pakistani fans broke his concentration. He had just hit his ninth four when he fell just short of the square leg rope and was caught.
His total of 357 runs, average 44.62, was the best of the event, although he was bizarrely pipped to the player of the tournament award. A points system gave the prize to Raymond von Schoor, who scored less runs and took fewer wickets. The Namibian made 1 and 0 in the vital last two games when Stirling made 56* and 79.
When the 21-year-old was out Ireland still needed 40 off 44 balls, and when Kevin O'Brien went next ball the Afghans scented blood. But Gary Wilson (32) and Andrew Poynter (23) kept their heads and ensured the trophy returned to Dublin Airport yesterday.
Earlier, in the crucial qualifying game, a brilliant opening spell by Trent Johnston and a man of the match return of 4-2-8-2 by Max Sorensen kept Namibia to 94-6, which Stirling polished off in 10.1 overs.