Australia started their night in Brisbane needing to pulverise Ireland. There were no two ways about it: not in the fourth of five matches in the T20 World Cup group stage, with the chunk of net run rate that the hosts needed to make up on England.
Midway through the night that chance was there with Ireland 25 for five in reply to a mid-range 179. By the end of the night it had slipped away, with the young Irish wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker playing an innings of consummate class to score 71 not out to take Ireland to 137 all out: not a winning total but enough to leave a mark on Australia’s campaign.
The first stick in the spokes for the home side was Ireland winning the toss and choosing to bowl, given that a run-rate boost is more feasible when chasing a small target quickly while batting first requires making a huge total to defend.
The second stick was the opening batting – so long a point of strength, with Aaron Finch and David Warner putting on more than 1,700 T20 runs together over the course of a decade.
Recent times have been a struggle, though, and Warner fell quickly as he has each time this tournament, clipping Barry McCarthy’s first ball to short fine leg for three. Finch started better than his long and frustrating night against Sri Lanka last Tuesday, pounding one big six early, but his innings still audibly wheezed along to 40 off 36 balls before a few late hits took him to 63, caught on the boundary to give McCarthy his third.
Meanwhile, Mitchell Marsh had some clean hits in his 28, and looks to have the goods to produce another World Cup special at some point, but he edged a cut from McCarthy. Glenn Maxwell had a typically frenetic over against the leg-spinner Gareth Delany: out lbw and overturning it, not out lbw and surviving a review, missing freebies outside leg stump before launching a better ball into the sightscreen. But it was another quick innings was too brief, tempted by width from Josh Little’s pace to give Tucker a second catch behind.
That left Marcus Stoinis to pick up where he had left off in Perth, with a clinic of straight hitting. The memo to keep him away from spinners had been slipped under the wrong door, as he laced four and lofted six off Delany, though he was scarcely less punishing against the seamer Mark Adair, rifling one straight drive that deserved the “tracer bullet” tag, then hitting so big that only airborne acrobatics from McCarthy prevented it clearing the rope. He enjoyed fortune with two attempted catches at deep cover until steering Little into the hands of backward point in the 19th over.
Tim David and Matthew Wade did a job, but the final score still looked underclubbed. It looked more so after Andrew Balbirnie pulled Josh Hazlewood for six over fine leg, and Paul Stirling hit a monster pick-up shot from Pat Cummins into the midwicket crowd. But 17 off the first nine deliveries gave way to five wickets for seven runs in 13 balls.
Balbirnie went way too far across, trying the unorthodox method of to playing Cummins from outside his off stump, and lost all three stumps instead. The Powerplay introduction of Maxwell’s off-spin was a masterstroke: Stirling drove him to mid‑off, Harry Tector pulled him to midwicket. Mitchell Starc followed up with a double‑wicket maiden, full and fast and swinging to smash the stumps of Curtis Campher and George Dockrell.
Ireland were 25 for five, and keeping them below 80 would have sent Australia’s run rate ahead of England’s. The small sample size of matches means the measure is volatile. That equally meant that Tucker was able to spoil Australia’s plans, dominating productive partnerships with Delany, Adair and McCarthy, and expanding in ambition as he went on. He was especially harsh on Starc, taking seven boundaries off him including an exquisitely threaded extra-cover drive and a courageous ramp. He also hit Hazlewood into the second level of the Gabba.
For a moment the win was a shimmer of possibility, when Ireland needed 44 from the last three overs. But McCarthy was caught in the deep off Cummins, and the last batter Josh Little could not get Tucker back on strike, eventually run out in the endeavour.
Australia got the two points but at the cost of injury ramifications, with David and Finch reporting hamstring concerns and Stoinis with his history of side strains leaving the field after bowling one over.
The final group match for Australia is against Afghanistan on Friday, and again a big margin will be the target. Run‑rate calculations could be rendered void if New Zealand beat England on Tuesday, but either way this patchy Australian campaign still has plenty of work to do.