Zaheer sparkles in India romp
Zaheer Khan did most of the damage as champions India inflicted a chastening eight-wicket defeat on Ireland in the final ICC World Twenty20 Group A fixture at Trent Bridge.
Will Porterfield’s men managed to muster only 112 for eight from 18 overs, after being put in first in a rain-shortened match.
They dug in admirably to make even that many, against some high-class pace bowling from Zaheer (4-19) among others - but were unable to defend their total as India raced home with 15 balls to spare, on the back of another half-century from in-form opener Rohit Sharma.
The mitigation for Ireland was the absence of injured pair Niall O’Brien and Trent Johnston, who both expect to be fit in time for tomorrow afternoon’s Super Eights opener against New Zealand at the same venue.
The evident gulf in class was nonetheless a stark warning of what Ireland will be up against for the remainder of the tournament.
Without O’Brien, their prospects of posting a challenging total were always going to be compromised - and it was discouraging to see opener Jeremy Bray’s struggles before he was comprehensively bowled for a seven-ball duck by Zaheer.
Bray’s opening partner Porterfield soon slashed a catch to slip off Zaheer - and after Andre Botha had also guided a delivery to the same position from the same bowler, at 17 for three it seemed a short match could well be in prospect.
If Ireland were to make a fist of it Kevin O’Brien, who had hit so powerfully to hasten their six-wicket victory over Bangladesh here two days ago, was the likeliest lad.
It was not to be for him this time, though - because he fell cheaply and unluckily when he dragged a pull at Pragyan Ojha’s first ball on to his stumps.
Gary Wilson would also have gone on 12, had Suresh Raina’s throw from mid-off hit the stumps.
He survived to help add 20 for the fifth wicket until Harbhajan Singh defeated an attempted drive and hit off-stump.
A ‘cheerio’ wave from the off-spinner to the departing batsman did Harbhajan no credit, however.
More honourable was another hard-working partnership for the next wicket - between top-scorer Andrew White and John Mooney, whose dismissal in the 15th over to a needless reverse-sweep at Ojha was a disappointing end to a resourceful effort.
Regan West was caught on the hop, ambling in for a second run but unfortunately airborne when Raina’s throw ricocheted off the wicketkeeper’s pads on to the stumps.
White continued to keep India at bay, and a hook for six off Irfan Pathan was just reward for his industry and determination - before he eventually edged behind to give Zaheer his final wicket.
Ninth-wicket pair Alex Cusack and Kyle McCallan accumulated 20 more runs from the last 10 balls to try to give their side something to bowl at.
It was a target which was always unlikely to tax India too much.
On a dank night, Boyd Rankin and O’Brien found enough in the pitch early on to each beat the bat - but it was not long before Gautam Gambhir and Rohit were finding the boundary with anticipated ease and regularity.
After 10 overs of milking the gaps, it was a surprise when Gambhir cut West’s left-arm spin straight into the hands of backward-point to end a stand of 77 and at least ensure Ireland’s margin of defeat was not the maximum.
Rankin returned to win a couple of minor moral victories over Mahendra Singh Dhoni - whose attempt to hit the 100th six of this tournament in the next over resulted instead in a fine, tumbling catch in the leg-side deep by Bray off McCallan.
It was nonetheless still a matter of awaiting the inevitable - and after Rohit had hit an undeserving Rankin for a towering six over long-on, the only questions remaining were whether he would reach his half-century or register that milestone maximum before the match was done.
He managed the former, with his fourth four from the 44th ball he faced, but not the latter - passing the baton on to Ireland and the Kiwis tomorrow as he finished on an unbeaten 52.