Joyce Wins ODI for Ireland
Ed Joyce is one of the most patriotic Irishmen it would be possible to imagine.
Whenever he walks to the crease, on the ODI stage, he wears his green uniform with pride. And, as he proved with a spectacular exhibition of pyrotechnics against Afghanistan on Tuesday, Joyce has something in common with The incredible Hulk.
Namely, that you wouldn’t like to see either man when they’re angry.
Joyce was livid after the controversial antics of the Afghan side on Sunday when he was run out, even though his sumptuous shot crossed the boundary rope for four, or at least according to all the picture evidence.
Even an appeal by the umpires to the touring captain, Asghar Stanikzai, fell on deaf ears and the veteran batsman made his feelings clear as he returned to the pavilion. It was a shoddy piece of gamesmanship from Stanikzai, who has gained plenty of respect during his side’s rapid rise up the Associate ladder in the last decade, but who was completely out of order in this instance.
As it transpired, Joyce made his opponents pay with a vengeance. Even at 37, he remains one of the most fluent and accomplished stroke-makers in the game and, oblivious to the regular loss of wickets at the other end, hit a superb unbeaten 160 during an innings which featured eighteen 4s and four 6s.
In what was the fifth and final ODI between these teams – and with Afghanistan leading 2-1 – his performance shone like a beacon. Alone of the players, he transcended the conditions and added over 100 runs in the second half of the Irish display.
The match brought Kevin O’Brien his 100th cap, but he and the likes of William Porterfield and Paul Stirling were overshadowed – and not for the first time in the series – by the pure, unstinting poetry of Joyce.
Only last week, he contributed an unbeaten 105 in his side’s tussle against the same rivals – and ensured Porterfield’s personnel triumphed comfortably.
And, in the last few years, there have also been ODI centuries against Pakistan and Zimbabwe. This latest transcendent show saw him amass 60% of his team’s tally of 265 for 5 and it was the second-highest score ever made by an Irish batsman on the limited-overs stage.
The record of 177 is held by Stirling, but he achieved that against Canada, who are nowhere near as formidable as the Afghanistan Class of 2016.
As a consequence of Joyce’s heroics, his compatriots were able to turn the screw, with their rivals slumping to 27 for 3 in the first ten overs. Najibullah Zadran and Rashid Khan gave Afghanistan renewed hope with a quickfire seventh-wicket stand of 93, and Dawlat Zadran struck 31 in 15 balls, including 20 in the last over. But it was too little, too late and Ireland ultimately prevailed by 12 runs.
Thus, at the climax of a hard-fought series, it finished 2-2, with one contest abandoned due to the weather.
In terms of the lessons from their exertions, both line-ups will reflect on the failure of so many players to transform chunky 20s and pretty 30s into genuinely significant knocks. Joyce and Shahzad are two of the few who seem capable of batting for long periods.
But, the worry remains for the Irish: where will they be without their most talismanic players once Joyce – who turns 38 in September – and Porterfield and O’Brien hang up their pads in the next three or four years?
They definitely have some promising performers, including Peter Chase, Sean Terry and Barry McCarthy, but, despite all the hype about the ICC increasing these countries’ profiles, it would surely have made more sense for the governing body to create a quadrangular tournament, also involving Scotland and The Netherlands.
As for Afghanistan, they have beaten the Scots and achieved parity with the Irish, away from home. Their star is rising and their squad is packed with all-rounders who can excel anywhere in the order.
But they need to avoid confusing being competitive with cheating or they risk sacrificing the goodwill they have built up on their global surge to prominence.