Ireland overwhelm Zimbabwe in ten-wicket win
Ireland 183 for 0 (Molins 107*, Bray 67*) beat Zimbabwe 182 (Ebrahim 52, Matsikenyeri 50) by 10 wickets
The Celtic fringe is rising. After the successes enjoyed by Scotland in their debut season of National League cricket, today it was Ireland's turn to shine - and they did it in style with a romping ten-wicket win against a dishevelled Zimbabwe side at the Civil Service ground at Stormont.
Jason Molins, Ireland's captain, led from the front as he smashed 107 not out from 101 balls with 14 fours and two sixes - the first century for Ireland against a touring team since Andrew Dunlop's against South Africa in 1998. And with the help of their adopted Aussie, Jeremy Bray (67 not out), the Irish cruised to their first victory over a touring team since their famous crushing of West Indies in 1969.
The fact that Ireland won with over 16 overs to spare emphasises how much of a stroll it was for Molins and Bray. They both made light of the heavy outfield and were in command all the way. Molins, in particular, dominated the bowling, driving and pulling powerfully and being particularly severe on Gary Brent, who clearly had not yet acclimatized.
Tatenda Taibu, Zimbabwe's acting captain, called on eight bowlers in search of a breakthrough, but none of them, not even the three who played in the last Test against England, could make any inroads.
But it was a different story for the Irish bowlers as Paul Mooney and Gary Neely struck early on to reduce Zimbabwe to an embarrassing 12 for 3. Dion Ebrahim (52) and Stuart Matsikenyeri (50) did then engineer a recovery of sorts, but Zimbabwe's eventual total of 182 was never going to be enough.
The weather conditions were as variable as the Zimbabwe batting - a bit of drizzle, a bit of warm sun, but mostly overcast. For the Zimbabweans, the worst was first. Douglas Marillier drove optimistically at the third ball of the innings and Paul Mooney knocked his leg stump out of the ground, without a run on the board. Charles Coventry followed suit in Mooney's next over, before Richie Sims was caught in the slips off Neely for the second duck in the innings.
Disaster loomed, but Ebrahim and Matsikenyeri engineered a recovery by adding 96 for the fourth wicket. Ebrahim dug in without looking convincing, as he had done in the Riverside Test, while Matsikenyeri played with the ease and technique he shows in Zimbabwe domestic cricket but rarely against international opposition.
Matsikenyeri was the first to reach his half-century, but then became over-ambitious and was easily stumped off Andrew White. Ebrahim also suffered a loss of concentration, bowled by Kyle McCallan as he attempted a forcing stroke off the back foot, and when Sean Ervine was slow to respond to Tatenda Taibu's call for a quick single, Zimbabwe were back in the bog at 133 for 6.
It was once again left to Taibu, captain for this brief leg of the tour, to salvage the innings. He found a useful partner in Travis Friend, who contributed some big hits in his 22. But when Friend was caught behind, the end came in a familiar flurry. Gary Brent was superbly caught and bowled by Andre Botha without scoring, and then Taibu (35) was caught at fine leg off Botha attempting a Marillier-esque scoop over the keeper. Waddington Mwayenga was last man out, caught off Neilly in the final over, to complete a poor performance and pave the way for another humiliating defeat ahead of the NatWest Series.