India 225 for 7 (Hooda 104, Samson 77, Adair 3-42) beat Ireland 221 for 5 (Balbirnie 60, Stirling 40, Tector 39, Dockrell 34*, Bishnoi 1-41) by four runs
Deepak Hooda scored his maiden T20I hundred. Sanju Samson gave international cricket its first real glimpse of his sumptuous gifts. Paul Stirling reminded the IPL that he exists. Andy Balbirnie slogged and connected often enough to make up for the times he slogged and missed. Then Harry Tector, George Dockrell and Mark Adair showed that Ireland have hitting talent all the way down their line-up.
It came down to one ball and six to get, in a chase of 226.
Umran Malik had kept Ireland to 11 off the first five balls of this final over, and four of those runs had come off an edge. He had endured a difficult debut, delivering just the one over in a rain-shortened game, and had conceded 31 in his first three overs today. Not bad at all considering the scoring rate of this match, but it would all now boil down to this one last ball.
Malik bowled it wide of off stump and Adair slashed through cover-point, but he couldn't find the elevation he needed to turn this rip-roaring chase into a party like Bengaluru or Nelson or Southampton. India wrapped up the series 2-0, but this was the sort of game that should have wider implications in terms of cricket's scheduling and economic flows. Will it? Who knows. But what a game.
Malahide has been one of the freest-scoring grounds in world cricket of late. Before today, its average run rate of 9.12 had put it sixth among the 69 grounds that have hosted at least five T20Is since the start of 2018. By the end of Sunday's surreal slugfest, Malahide had moved up to third place on that list, leapfrogging Hamilton, Centurion and Mount Maunganui.
Samson and Hooda show off India's bench strength
Hooda was on the bench throughout the last T20I series India played, and Samson wasn't even in the squad. This was despite India resting a number of their regular top-order batters. Hooda got his chance in this series because Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer were unavailable, and Samson came into the side for this game because Ruturaj Gaikwad was out with a calf niggle.
And what watchable evidence it was. You need to be a special player experiencing a special day to not just outscore Samson but also better him for eye-catching strokeplay, and Hooda did both. The forays down the pitch to use his long levers to hit long and straight were awe-inspiring, but even better was his ruthless pulling and hooking of anything short. His maiden T20I fifty came up off 27 balls, and his hundred off 55.
Samson followed in Hooda's slipstream for most of the partnership, every now and again making spectators sit up with a moment of effortless timing - a full-face drive straight of mid-off, off Craig Young, was one notable instance. But he surged after reaching his fifty - hitting three sixes in the space of five balls before he was bowled by an Adair yorker - just as Hooda slowed down in his 90s, taking ten balls to go from 91 to 100. As a result, Samson ended up with a marginally better strike rate of the pair.
Ireland hit back after they ended the Hooda-Samson stand, with Young and Adair conceding just 13 off the last two overs while taking three wickets. As it turned out, this mini-comeback, and Hooda's slowdown, would nearly go on to have a result-changing impact.
Ireland give India serious fright
Stirling's T20I record against top oppositions - he had passed 20 only once in 17 innings against the traditional top eight teams - is one possible reason behind his never having featured in the IPL, but when he gets going, even the best can find him hard to stop. Bhuvneshwar Kumar found this out as Stirling pulled, slapped and whipped him for 6, 4, 4, 4 off the last four balls of his first over. Ireland's chase was up and running.
Or was it? At the other end, Balbirnie tried to hit the leather off every ball he faced, but he was struggling to connect, and hadn't yet got off the mark after seven balls. But a shuffling sweep for six off Bhuvneshwar got his innings going, and while he continued to play and miss, he also kept clearing the ropes. With Stirling finding the boundary regularly, Ireland remained in touch with their required rate. They ended their powerplay 73 for 1, after Ravi Bishnoi bowled Stirling with a googly. India were 54 for 1 at the same stage.
At the ten-over mark, Ireland were still in the game at 107 for 2. Balbirnie began the second half of their innings ominously, with a four and a paddled six off Harshal Patel. But Harshal - who endured a difficult day when his slower ball kept slipping out and ending up as full tosses - struck off the next ball, Balbirnie slapping a short ball straight to the off-side sweeper.
The next nine balls brought no boundaries, and Ireland suddenly needed 102 off the last 48 balls. Tector, their half-centurion in the first T20I, was in the middle, but would the rest of their batting be able to keep this pursuit going?
They would. Dockrell hit the first ball he faced for an inside-out six over the covers, and that began a phase when Ireland hit three sixes and four fours in the space of 16 balls to bring the equation down to 38 off 18. Bhuvneshwar dismissed Tector in the 18th over, but that didn't stop Ireland either, as Adair kept their boundary blitz going.
It came down, in the end, to one ball, and one hit. On another day, Adair may have connected more sweetly. On this one, Malik and India prevailed.