Ireland v Pakistan, 2nd ODI, Belfast May 31, 2011

Waqar impressed with Ireland

ESPNcricinfo staff

Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach, has backed Ireland to become tough opponents in their home conditions after his team played them in two one-day internationals in Belfast. Pakistan swept the series but, after a tougher test in the second game, Waqar was impressed with the hosts' showing.

"I think they probably lack one or two batsmen in the middle order," Waqar said after the match. "They have a solid top order, but I think they struggle a bit in the middle order, although they missed a couple of players.

"They can make a good side, especially in these conditions. They are a side that attracts everyone. They are big fighters. They love their cricket and are definitely an upcoming team."

Ireland were missing Niall O'Brien, their regular wicketkeeper and a key middle-order batsman, through injury. After a disappointing collapse in the first game - they were bowled out for 96 - Paul Stirling ensured they got to a competitive 238 on Monday with his 109 off 107 balls.

It was Stirling's third one-day hundred but his first against a Test-playing nation. It was also his first hundred at home and he was happy to have done it against the Pakistan attack. "It is pleasing to get a century at any time but to get it against such a good bowling attack feels pretty good," Stirling said. "It's nice to do it in front of your home crowd and in front of some familiar faces and my family."

The 20-year-old Stirling averages an impressive 40.13 in his 31 one-day internationals but has often failed to make the most after getting a good start, like he did in the first game against Pakistan, when his dismissal for 39 sparked Ireland's collapse. Stirling said that he was working on converting starts by learning to restrain his natural attacking style.

"You have to turn those thirties into something bigger and hopefully that will come in the next few years," he said. "Sometimes I have to reel myself in. It was good batting with Ed Joyce up top; he was a calming influence and made sure that every ball I was focusing on the next one and not getting too far ahead."

Stirling's knock impressed Waqar, especially because it was crafted with proper cricketing shots. "I think he's a fine player. He doesn't slog," Waqar said. "He plays proper cricketing shots and you enjoy it as a spectator. Even I enjoyed every bit of it because he can hit the ball far; he has got good footwork. He's also young so he has plenty of time and he's not scared of playing shots against any bowler which is brilliant."

Ireland's improved performance in the second ODI was important as they needed to prove they can compete with the top nations before the ICC chief executives' committee meets next month to discuss the possibility of over-ruling their omission from the 2015 World Cup.

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