West Indies 331 for 5 (Ambris 148, Chase 46, Carter 43*, Rankin 3-65) beat Ireland 327 for 5 (Balbirnie 135, Stirling 77, Kevin O’Brien 63, Gabriel 2-47) by five wickets
Two men who are both not going to be in the World Cup in England, stole the show in neighbouring Ireland with power-packed centuries, but in the end Sunil Ambris had greater firepower around his 148 off 126, than Andy Balbirnie’s 135 off 124.
Ambris is not part of West Indies’ World Cup squad, and while Balbirnie is going to be in Ireland’s squad whenever they play – they aren’t going to play in the World Cup.
Ambris’s maiden ODI century meant West Indies hunted down Ireland’s imposing 327 for 5, completing their highest successful chase in the process. Ambris was pushed up to open only because John Campbell had a sore back after hitting 179 in the tournament opener, as part of a world-record opening partnership. He grabbed his chance though, and was confident right from the start, feasting on some ordinary bowling by Ireland to ensure West Indies’ chase never flagged.
His innings pushed Balbirnie’s in the shade, but the Ireland No.3 was no less impressive, showing great shot selection and timing during his stay. However, West Indies’ firepower in batting meant they had enough in the tank to chase the target down on a flat pitch, even if the outfield was rendered sluggish due to rain on the previous day.
Ambris batted till the 40th over, and all through, he kept West Indies abreast of the required run rate. When he was eventually out, Jonathan Carter and Jason Holder smashed the bowling around at close to ten runs per over to bring up victory in just 47.5 overs.
Ambris and Shai Hope had gotten West Indies’ reply off to the perfect start, and they were aided by Ireland’s bowlers’ indiscipline. A boundary ball was never far away, even when a couple of good ones came together, and every time the bowlers started to build any sort of pressure, a release ball arrived. Ambris capitalised fully, and his aggression allowed Hope to tick along without playing extravagant shots. When Hope fell, Darren Bravo walked in and that was the only time Ireland gained any measure of control. Bravo was unable to get the ball away, but despite that, Ambris kept the run-rate healthy. He then shared a crucial 128-run stand with Roston Chase off 116 balls that dragged West Indies back on track, before Carter and Holder finished things off.
Earlier, Balbirnie’s stand with half-centurions Paul Stirling (77 off 98) and Kevin O’Brien (63 off 40) first set a platform for Ireland, then launched them to a massive total.
Balbirnie was in the middle in the fifth over, and stayed till the 44th. He settled into the groove seamlessly, and no West Indian bowler could tie him down. When they bowled with discipline he placed and nudged the ball. When they erred, he took full toll. He put on a brisk 146 with Stirling for the second wicket, with the opener mixing caution with bursts of explosion in contrast to Balbirnie’s more even-tempered knock.
When Stirling fell, followed soon by William Porterfield – batting at No.4 for the first time for Ireland across formats – soon after, O’Brien joined Balbirnie, and the two put on 84 off just 63 balls. O’Brien was aggressive from the outset, and went ballistic against Jason Holder in the 48th over, carting the West Indies captain for three consecutive sixes before holing out off a bouncer.
That late boost was the perfect finish after Balbirnie had provided the spine of the innings, but on a batting beauty, it proved to be a little short as West Indies moved to the top of the tri-series points table.