4 – 4 – 6 – 4 – 6 …. Holy Mackeral! 24 runs belted in over 50 by Michael Bracewell of New Zealand to post a victory over Ireland
A day after the Irish rugby team upset the All Blacks in Dunedin, the Irish cricket team threatened to pull off something similar against the Black Caps in Malahide. For large parts of the game, it seemed like it would be an even more memorable weekend for Irish sports fans, but Sunday’s cricket match ended in heartbreak for the sell-out crowd after Michael Bracewell shellacked an unbeaten 127 off 82 balls, in only his fourth ODI, to snatch victory, with one wicket and one ball to spare.
Bracewell’s maiden ODI hundred trumped Harry Tector‘s, denying Ireland their first victory over New Zealand in international cricket. When Bracewell had walked out to bat, New Zealand were 120 for 5 in the 22nd over in pursuit of 301, with Curtis Campher having just yorked Martin Guptill for 51. With New Zealand eventually needing 20 off the last over, bowled by Craig Young, Bracewell went 4,4,6,4,6 in a nerveless finish.
New Zealand’s 20 runs are the most target runs successfully chased in the 50th over of a men’s ODI; the previous highest was 18 runs, by England against Australia in 1987.
How did it even come down to the last over? New Zealand’s batting line-up appeared thin in the absence of a number of frontline players, including regular captain Kane Williamson, Devon Conway and Daryl Mitchell among others, but they found a new hero in Bracewell.
Much like Mitchell, Bracewell had emerged on New Zealand’s white-ball radar after tearing up the Super Smash with his big-hitting. In the most recent Super Smash, Bracewell had topped the run-scoring charts with 478 runs in ten innings at an average of nearly 80 and strike rate of almost 150. In the ODI series opener against Ireland, he showed that he could hit them long and big at a higher level, in the face of a rapidly rising asking rate.
After reaching a fifty off 51 balls, he stormed to a hundred off 74 balls. At that point, it was anyone’s game, with New Zealand needing 24 off the last 12 balls. Mark Adair then castled Lockie Ferguson in a terrific penultimate over, which cost only four runs. It left Young with 21 to defend off the final over, but he repeatedly missed his lengths and cracked under pressure.
There was a method to Bracewell’s madness. With both fine leg and square leg up and Young setting himself up to bowl wide yorkers, Bracewell jumped across off and scooped him for fours off the first two balls. He shuffled across off for the next two balls as well and swatted a four and six over midwicket.
It prompted Young and Andy Balbirnie to whisk square leg back among multiple field changes, but Bracewell still walloped the fourth delivery for four to the right of Simi Singh at deep square leg. Bracewell then nonchalantly launched the last ball into the hospitality tents beyond the wide long-on boundary to complete an stunning heist.
It capped a successful turnaround for Bracewell on the personal front as well, having taken some tap with his offspin in the Tests in England and also against Ireland on Sunday. Bracewell’s blitz shaded Tector’s knock and Campher’s three-wicket haul.
Just weeks after the retirement of former captain William Porterfield and the transitioning of Kevin O’Brien into Italy’s support staff, Tector provided a glimpse into Ireland’s future with his sublime strokeplay. He converted his fourth fourth successive half-century in ODI cricket – and eighth in his last 11 ODI innings – to a first ton to carry Ireland to 300 for 9.
Tector started the repair job when Ireland were 26 for 2, and didn’t budge until the 44th over. He sensibly saw off incisive first spells from Ferguson and Matt Henry, bedded in during the middle overs, and then unleashed an end-overs assault.
Tector’s career-best ODI score comes just two weeks after he produced his best T20I score – 64 not out off 33 balls – against an India attack that had Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, and tearaway Umran Malik. During that effort, also at the same venue, Tector had played a range of attractive strokes through and over the covers. On Sunday, Ferguson and co didn’t offer him as many chances to drive through the region, but Tector showed he is strong on the leg side as well, taking 46 of his 113 runs on this side of the wicket. The leg-side bash included everything from swivel-pulls to the good-old swipe.
Tector brought up the hundred in grand fashion by cracking seamer Blair Tickner for four successive fours in the 42nd over. Tector’s celebration was extremely emotional – he had lost his grandmother last weekend – and he looked good for more when he lined up Tickner for two more boundaries in his next over.
Tickner, however, cut his pace down and cut short Tector’s innings at 113 off 117 balls. Tector was warmly welcomed back by Paul Stirling, the only other Ireland batter to rack up four successive fifty-plus scores for Ireland in ODI cricket, along with the rest of the squad.
Campher played a similar crucial role for Ireland, following up his 47-ball 43 with figures of 3 for 49. After adopting a proactive approach with the bat against New Zealand’s spinners, Campher claimed the prized scalps of Guptill, Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls in the chase. Oh, he wasn’t done yet. He ran out Ish Sodhi for 25, to snap a 61-run seventh-wicket stand with Bracewell, and roused Ireland even further.
Bracewell, however, flipped the script along with cameos from Sodhi and Glenn Phillips, who was playing his first ODI, to make it New Zealand’s day out at the cricket.