A defiant innings that mixed obduracy with opportunism saw Paul Stirling hold his Ireland together in a difficult chase, keeping Ireland in contention as wickets fell around him during the first CWC Super League ODI at Utrecht. Dutch captain Pieter Seelaar held a fantastic catch at extra cover off Timm van der Gugten to end Stirling's innings on 69, before claiming two crucial wickets at the death as his side clung on for a final-ball victory to draw first blood in the series and claim ten crucial Super League points in so doing.
In a genre-defining low-scoring thriller that saw the momentum swing back and forth repeatedly across the hundred overs, it was the hosts that came out on top in the end, defending 195 by a single run in a nailbiting climax – one that will doubtless have won them new fans abroad and the game itself new fans at home, with the match the first to be broadcast in full on Dutch television.
The Irish had looked well on top in phases, most notably when the Dutch makeshift middle-order fell rapidly apart immediately after the powerplay. After a brisk opening stand between Max O'Dowd and Stephan Myburgh had promised much on a difficult track. Timm van der Gugten was able to rally the tail after a top order collapse to take the Netherlands to a sub-par but defensible 195 all out in exactly fifty.
The Dutch pace attack had Ireland on the ropes early in the chase as three wickets fell in the first three overs, and would continue to find wickets through the innings, but didn't get the one they needed until the 35th over, by which stage Stirling had put Ireland back in control.
Simi Singh had looked set to take Ireland over the line, but Seelaar struck twice in the 47th to remove Andy McBrine and Barry McCarthy before a bouncing bat on the dive saw Singh run out trying to get back on strike with ten still needed in the final over. Last pair Joshua Little and Craig Young could not find those last runs, and the game would end with a single bye run to keeper Edwards, one too few to tie the scores.
Winning the toss and electing to post what they could on a surface that looked tough to bat on and likely to get tougher, the Dutch initially looked in control as the in-form Max O'Dowd and the veteran Stephan Myburgh added a brisk 31 for the first wicket, before Craig Young's discipline brought reward as Myburgh nicked off fencing at a shortish delivery.
With the fifty up just after the powerplay, the hosts nonetheless looked off to a decent start but the introduction of wrist and offspin, both in the form of Simi Singh, would see the game start to turn in Ireland's favour. O'Dowd was given out LBW to Singh's second ball and his inexperience with the Decision Review System showed as he walked off without even consulting his partner, out to a ball that would have comforatbly cleared the stumps.
No review would have saved Ben Cooper though, a pitch-perfect inswinging yorker from Josh Little pinning the Dutch number three in front, and Seelaar nicked off in the next over, half forward to a fuller delivery from Little playing away from the body. Three wickets falling without the score moving, the pressure was on the Netherlands' inexperienced middle-order.
Scott Edwards would become Little's third victim with just two more runs added, and at 53-5 the Dutch looked all but out of the game. Bas de Leede and Saqib Zulfiqar, understudies to the Netherlands' absent county stars, dug in creditably to arrest the slide, grinding out a 49-run partnership over the course of some 17 overs.
But after doing the doing the hard work of getting in on a tough track, de Leede fell to a back of a length ball from Andy McBrine. Sharp turn and bounce saw the ball climb on De Leede, as he looked to turn it to leg, popping it up for the simplest of catches at midwicket. Zulfiqar squandered all his hard work two overs later, running lazily and not sliding the bat, as the direct hit saw him less than a bat's length short.
At seven down for just 102, anything competitive looked a long way off, but Timm van der Gugten wrested the momentum back the hosts' way at the death. After looking initially becalmed in company of Logan van Beek, the introduction of what now must be called the part-time left arm spin of George Dockrell cued the counterattack. Dockrell dragging one short that sat up for van der Gugten and was duly pulled away over the fence at midwicket for six.
Three more maximums would follow before vand der Gugten fell just one short of what would have been a well-deserved half-century, looking to force a length ball from Young over the on side but done by seam movement and offering a leading edge to cover.
The late flourish was enough to get the Dutch close enough to 200 that on a pitch showing the effects of the heavy recent rain they might feel in with a fighting chance. After three overs it was clear they had rather more than that. Two balls into the Ireland innings, Fred Klaassen should have had his first but a clanger from Edwards behind the stumps saw Porterfield reprieved. He rode his luck only as far as the first ball of the next over though. Logan van Beek struck on the first ball, shaping one back in to trap him in front of middle and leg.
Balbirnie at three might have gone first ball as the outside edge dropped just short of Edwards, but neither did he ride his luck for long. Van Beek offered a bit of width and Balbirnie looked to cut, but extra bounce drew a thick edge into into the hands of O'Dowd at Gully.
George Dockrell arrived in his new roll as batting all-rounder, but added just 11 runs to the total before falling to Brandon Glover going back to a fullish ball that kept a shade low and clattered into the stumps. Seelaar's first spell would deprive Stirling of another partner in Lorcan Tucker who was trappoed LBW for 8 to leave the visitors relling on 69-5.
For Ireland, the stabilising partnership came in the form of Stirling and Singh, as crucially both managed to find ways to score, the required rate never climbing much above 4.5 an over for as long as they were together. Stirling had taken a while to get the measure of the pitch but took advantage as the Dutch attack began to tire in the heat. Anything with a shade of width was cut away, anything short pulled through the on side, and as Stirling passed fifty and the Irish three figures, it looked as though he would single-handedly win the match.
The Dutch needed something special, and Seelaar delivered. Van der Gugten provided the temptation with a ball slightly ovepitched just outside off. It stuck just a little in the wicket and Stirling's drive was hard but elevated just enough to carry to Seelaar going low to his left from extra cover. It was enough to give the Dutch hope, but little more, as each of the 19 wides bowled by the Dutch edged the Irish closer.
With Andy Mcbrine, Singh would take them to within 18 runs of victory before Seeelaar's second intervention with the ball happening – pinning McBrine LBW for 17 and having McCarthy caught at cover three balls later.
The penultimate over from Fred Klaassen yielded just three runs to put the Dutch clearly ahead going into the last, with 12 needed off it for the win. Logan van Beek would bowl it, opening with a wide before Singh's misfortune all but sealed the game.
Coming back for the second off a miscued pull and diving to beat the throw, Singh's bat bounced up before reaching the crease as the ball took the stumps on the full. Last pair Little and Young needed luck and courage. The latter they had as they looked to scoop or ramp van Beek for the final runs, the former came on the fourth ball as Young's edge beat the fine leg fielder and found the rope. With three needed off the last, they would fall just short however. Little missed the scoop, and Edwards collected and dashed to the stumps to keep the batsmen to just one bye.
One run the margin in the end, but ten points the difference. A perfect start for the Dutch in their Super League campaign, and a significant blow to Ireland's hopes.