REPORT: Firing Finch, bowler blitz seal Aussie win over Ireland

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A return to form from captain Aaron Finch and an early onslaught from the bowlers has seen Australia to a comfortable 42-run win over an outclassed Ireland at the Gabba.

The skipper’s stellar 63 at the top of the order powered the Aussies to 5/179, their best score of the T20 World Cup to date, before Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Glenn Maxwell fired in the PowerPlay to ensure Ireland’s run chase was dead on arrival.

But a stirring half-century from Lorcan Tucker, who finished unbeaten on 71 from 48 balls, saved face for the Irish, and ensures Australia’s net run rate remains a significant hindrance to their semi-final chances, with just one game left in the Super 12s stage to fix it.

Sitting at -1.56 heading into the game, a mammoth win to boost the rate past parity looked on the cards when Ireland, confident heading in after last week’s memorable triumph over England, lost five wickets for just seven runs to slump to 5/25.

But thanks to Tucker, the Irish gave the chase enough of a shake to see the Aussies’ net run rate finish at -0.30 – still some way below England (+0.24).

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Friday night’s clash with Afghanistan in Adelaide looms as essential for Australia to win by a mammoth margin; otherwise, they will need to hope England lose one of their final two matches against New Zealand and Sri Lanka to squeeze into the knockout stages alongside the Black Caps.

Of concern to the hosts as well is the continued poor form of David Warner, whose wretched World Cup continued after falling for just three. The 2021 edition’s player of the tournament now has just 19 runs in three matches.

Adjudged player of the match, Finch said he was ‘not at all’ pressured by talk of his spot in the team.

“The support from the change room and the coaching staff has been unbelievable,” he said.

“I know how I’m batting, I know that I’m training very well, and that’s all you can control. You get out into the middle and your instinct takes over.

“It’s just one of those things – T20’s a high-risk game at times, and sometimes you get them out of the middle early, some days you don’t.”

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His 44-ball 63 had looked like the Finch of old for the first time in months, and ensures – if there was any doubt – that he will remain in charge until at least the end of the tournament.

That is, unless a hamstring injury sustained while batting proves serious enough to sideline him, though Finch is confident he will be fit to face Afghanistan in four days’ time.

“Little hammy twinge I think, so I’ll get scans tomorrow,” he said.

“Unfortunately I’ve had a history of them… it doesn’t feel too bad at the moment, but generally they can stiffen up overnight.

“We’ll know once we get the scans tomorrow.”

For Ireland, quicks Barry McCarthy and Josh Little were tremendously impressive, featuring with 3/29 and 2/21 respectively, while the former’s incredible save of a Marcus Stoinis six might be the fielding effort of the tournament to date.

Mitchell Starc of Australia celebrates a wicket.

Mitchell Starc of Australia celebrates a wicket. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Following Warner’s dismissal, tamely flicking Barry McCarthy to short fine leg, a 52-run partnership between Finch and Mitchell Marsh helped set up the innings.

Marsh hasn’t quite been at his brutal ball-striking best, though a sizzling pull shot for four first ball was a reminder of his almost unmatched power in world cricket. His fall for 28, edging the stoic McCarthy behind attempting to cut, came just as the Western Australian appeared set to explode.

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With Glenn Maxwell again only mustering a cameo before also edging a catch behind off Little for 13, it was once again Stoinis who, together with Finch, ensured the Aussies had plenty on the board.

The all-rounder’s follow-up effort to his record half-century against Sri Lanka in Perth was a more than worthy sequel: striking the ball as cleanly as ever, he bludgeoned Irish legspinner Gareth Delaney for a four then a six in quick succession to exemplify his rapid improvement against slow bowling.

Suddenly faced with a challenge, the Irish bowlers began to wilt: Mark Adair will have nightmares about his wayward third over, which lasted 11 balls after a series of wides, one ball coming perilously close to missing the pitch completely.

With Finch beginning to motor too, passing his 50 with a sweetly timed six off Adair to complete a 19-run over, 200 looked on the cards before the captain finally holed out to long on.

The captain’s fall followed by Stoinis’ for 35 meant a tame end to the innings for the Aussies, who managed just seven runs combined across the 18th and 19th overs. But some crisp ball-striking from Tim David (15 off 10) and an innovative ramped boundary past backward point from Matthew Wade (7 off 3) brought about a 17-run final over as Adair was once again taken the distance.

He’d finish with a painful 0/59 from his four overs, more than McCarthy and Little had conceded combined.

180 might have been a chaseable target had the Irish continued to bat as openers Andrew Balbirnie and Paul Stirling started.

Seemingly invigorated after a perfect Josh Hazlewood seamer nicked the top of off, only for the bails to remain undisturbed, captain Balbirnie casually flipped the next ball over fine leg for six.

When Stirling smacked Pat Cummins into the stands over deep mid-wicket next over, the unthinkable looked on. But all it took was one wicket to break the spell, Balbirnie castled by Cummins again attempting to drag him to leg.

Maxwell’s inclusion would quickly prove a stroke of genius by Finch, removing Stirling (11) and Harry Tector (6) in the same over to leave the Irish reeling. When Starc, again deprived of the new ball, found swing to dismantle the stumps of Campher and Dockrell, the Aussies’ victory margin began the sole focus.

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Tucker, though, had other ideas. His emergence this tournament has been a major highlight for Ireland, with his early onslaught proving the difference against England at the MCG.

It takes a special talent to dispatch a Starc inswinger to the mid-wicket boundary with as much disdain as the 26-year old keeper-batsman managed to start the left-armer’s second over.

So rattled was Starc by consecutive Tucker boundaries that his attempted response was a wicked beamer, the Irishman only saved from disaster by having pre-empted a move to the off side to ramp it fine.

Delany’s fall for 14, lifting Stoinis to mid-wicket attempting to lift the run rate, effectively ensured there would be no comeback. With Finch succumbing to his injury and David also spending time off the field with his own hamstring problem, escaping from the match unscathed became as big a focus for Australia as their net run rate.

They might have achieved both, however, had Cummins not made a mess of a high chance at mid-wicket to give Tucker a life; Starc, having been whacked for another pair of boundaries by the keeper earlier in the over, was far from impressed with the drop.

As long as Tucker remained in, Ireland had hope of an incredible comeback; but with Adair gone for 11, stumped off Zampa, he was fast running out of partners.

The leggie added a second wicket when Fionn Hand failed to read a wrong’un and was bowled – with Tucker on 43, even Australian fans were surely rooting for him to get to a well-deserved half-century.

He couldn’t have produced a more emphatic way to reach the milestone, either, larruping Hazlewood straight back over long on for the shot of the night.

More wonderful shots off Starc saw the left-armer, after a double-wicket maiden first over, concede 43 off his final three, reducing the asking rate to an achievable 44 off the final three overs; but McCarthy’s fall dragging Cummins to deep mid-wicket seemingly put paid to that.

A mix-up, in the end, would decide the matter: Tucker reverse-swept Maxwell to Marsh at point, sent Little back as he hared through for a single, and the Aussie pair combined to catch him fractionally short, to complete a 42-run victory.

A comfortable enough result for Australia: but given their starts with both bat and ball, one can’t help wondering whether this was their last chance at restoring a net run rate that is increasingly looking like ending their title defence.

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