Ireland's imperishable tour ends tamely


It was an unfitting end to an otherwise indelible limited-overs series in the Caribbean for Ireland.

It was an unfitting end to an otherwise indelible limited-overs series in the Caribbean for Ireland but a four-wicket reversal on Sunday, at the hands of a middling West Indies unit, in the solitary ODI, was an underwhelming way to conclude the three-game tour – and a reminder of the unmerciful realities at the top level.

The exertion of the Twenty20 International series, which was drawn one-one, appeared to take its toll on the tourists, who apart from a spirited rally during the hosts' reply, were on the back foot for the majority. Once again, they struggled to contend with Sabina Park's irregular surface and the guile of the West Indies' slower bowlers, as they slumped to 202 all out despite a half-century from Gary Wilson, before having the game taken away from them by an aggressive opening partnership between Dwayne Smith and Kieran Powell.

The duo came out of the blocks purposefully and made their intentions clear by putting the Irish bowlers off their nagging line and length with an array of belligerent strokes. Smith, in particular, who was in the side after Chris Gayle withdrew through injury, took full advantage of his opportunity with a quickfire half-century as he clubbed the first two balls of the innings to the fence. It was his first ODI since December 2012 but he showed no signs of rustiness as he converted his form from the Super50, during which he was named tournament MVP, onto the international stage.

It was far from a complete performance from Ottis Gibson's side but after a slow start to their international summer, confidence is building ahead of the series with England, which will act as preparation for next month's World Twenty20 title defence.

Experienced all-rounder Smith hit both Max Sorensen and the ever-reliable Tim Murtagh out of the attack as William Porterfield was forced to turn to his slower bowlers in an attempt to stem the steady flow of runs. He was instantly rewarded.

Smith fell shortly after bringing up the century stand, to Stuart Thompson during an impressive all-round performance by the 22-year-old, before Kirk Edwards was brilliantly run out by George Dockrell for two. Ireland's resurgence gained momentum when Darren Bravo, another batsman added to the panel after the Twenty20 series, edged Thompson, as the hosts lost three wickets for eight runs.

That checked Powell's progress as he adopted a more watchful approach having been joined by Dwayne Bravo but the pair proceeded to edge their side towards victory. Bravo assumed the role of aggressor by hitting six boundaries and in the process, quashing any hopes of an Irish fightback.

He did, however, in typical fashion, throw his wicket away with victory in sight. An unattractive shot into the off-side was brilliantly caught by the onrushing Thompson. The brunt of the work was done, however, and despite the departure of Powell for a well-structured and composed 57 and then Ramdin, who gave Dockrell his second wicket, the hosts got over the line with 13 overs remaining.

Porterfield had earlier opted to bat after winning the toss, disregarding the slow nature of the Sabina Park surface. The left-hander started positively but lost his opening partner, Paul Stirling, in the third over as Jason Holder broke through his defences. Having failed to chase down 97 on Friday, Ireland were intent on applying themselves and accumulating steadily and made unperturbed progress after Ed Joyce joined his skipper in the middle.

Debutant Miguel Cummins started nervously and after bowling two no-balls – and seeing the resulting free-hits bludgeoned into the stands for maximums – had Porterfield caught down the leg-side for 25.

It was a destructive blow to the Irish, who had begun to take control of proceedings. Joyce soon followed, chipping Bravo to mid-on and the recalled Niall O'Brien could only add 12 before becoming Bravo's second victim.

Wilson steadied the innings alongside Niall's brother, Kevin, but two quick strikes from left-arm spinner Nikita Miller left Ireland flapping. Thompson added some late-order impetus, and along with Wilson propelled the tourists up towards a total which they could bowl at with a partnership of 61. A flurry of late wickets – sparked by Wilson's departure for an assured 62 – saw Ireland bowled out with a couple of deliveries remaining.

Holder and Bravo finished with three wickets apiece while Miller was equally impressive, stifling the batsmen with turn and bounce. Ireland's attention now turns to preparations for Bangladesh while the West Indies will face England in three ODIs starting on Friday.

<b>Ryan Bailey</b>