Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna
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United States of America 188 for 6 (Gajanand 65, Modani 50, McCarthy 4-30) beat Ireland 162 for 6 (Tucker 57*, Netravalkar 2-26, Patel 2-27) by 26 runs
Christmas came early for USA on Wednesday afternoon at the Broward County Stadium as Gajanand Singh and Sushant Modani's 110-run partnership was the gift that kept on giving to the small but vocal crowd that chanted for the home side throughout a remarkable 26-run win over Ireland. On a day that was historic from the start with USA hosting a Test nation in a bilateral series for the first time, the home team decided to put an exclamation point in the history books by marking the occasion with their first-ever T20I win over a Full Member.
Dressed in Ireland's neon green T20I jersey, Barry McCarthy looked primed to play the role of the Grinch after taking three wickets in a powerplay that reduced USA to 16 for 4 after the hosts had won the toss and chosen to bat first. McCarthy nabbed USA captain Monank Patel second ball of the match pushing with hard hands at a back of a length ball edging behind to Neil Rock. Dot ball pressure led to an impetuous charge from Xavier Marshall playing around a length ball to be bowled for 4 in the third over. Debutant Ritwik Behera was defeated trying to sweep Simi Singh to go leg before for a four-ball duck. McCarthy was then given a third over in the powerplay and rewarded captain Andy Balbirnie by inducing a false flick off the pads from Ryan Scott to deep square leg for 8.
But just when it looked like USA's stockings were about to be filled with coal, Gajanand and Modani came to the rescue with a record-breaking stand, producing a new high for USA for any wicket in T20Is. The pair initially focused on soaking up pressure and seeing off the early storm as no boundaries were scored from the sixth through the 11th over when USA inched along to 56 for 4. But Gajanand's slog sweep over wide long-on for six off Simi Singh in the 12th was a harbinger of the merry power-hitting to come as USA plundered 132 runs off the final nine overs. Up to that stage, USA had only scored two boundaries but finished the second half of their innings with eight fours and nine sixes.
The left-right combo of Gajanand and Modani also caused match-up problems against Ireland's bowlers who struggled to deal with the traditionally strong crosswind in Lauderhill that blew to the east grandstand on Wednesday. Gajanand scored all but one of his five sixes to the east side, bringing up a 35-ball half-century with an edge to the third man boundary. The partnership finally ended when Gajanand bottom edged a half-tracker from legspinner Ben White that was well held by Rock for 65.
Modani soldiered on with a fresh left-handed partner in Marty Kain, adding another 38 in quick time for the sixth wicket. After originally being included in the ODI squad only, Modani made the most of his T20I debut that came about as a result of a Covid outbreak in the USA squad by bringing up a 38-ball half-century. He fell one ball later to make it 164 for 6 with seven balls left, driving to long-off to give McCarthy one more wicket at the death in a spell of 4 for 30.
In recent years during the Samuel Plummer era as pitch curator in Lauderhill, 180 has traditionally been a par score. Mark Adair's fateful 20th over resulted in USA going well past that magic number thanks to Kain, who flicked two fours and two sixes in a 23-run frame. With the wind blowing strongly to Kain's leg side, Adair misfired badly off the first four deliveries with the field set for wide yorkers. Instead, he fed Kain on his pads and saw the ball disappear over the east side rope on each occasion as Kain's unbeaten 39 off 15 took USA to a commanding 188 for 6.
Compared to USA's paltry powerplay score of 26 for 4, Ireland got off to a far more confident start in the chase behind the typically belligerent hitting of Paul Stirling, who muscled six boundaries inside the first four overs. But after Balbirnie fell into a short ball trap at deep square leg to Ali Khan in the second over, Stirling succumbed to a nip-backer from left-arm medium-pacer Saurabh Netravalkar to fall for 31. Despite being in a solid position at the end of the first six with the score 54 for 2, Ireland's middle-order struggles from the T20 World Cup continued to rear their head in Florida as the innings struggled to regain any momentum.
Lorcan Tucker ended with an unbeaten 57 off 49 balls after entering at No. 3, but was scoring at less than a run a ball for the majority of his knock. Wickets continued to fall at regular intervals at the opposite end as the fall of Curtis Campher on a charge gone awry to left-arm spinner Nisarg Patel ended Ireland's best partnership of the day for 33 runs making it 74 for 3 in the 10th. By the time death overs specialist Khan took the ball for the 19th, Ireland needed 51 off 12 balls. A yorker from Khan cleaned up William McClintock for 9 to put a stamp on the performance as USA's franchise T20 star ended with 2 for 30.
While the result may be a sign that Ireland's prolonged form funk from the 2021 T20 World Cup is not going away anytime soon, it's also a warning to next year's T20 World Cup Qualifier field set to be contested in Oman and Zimbabwe that USA will not be content to wait for a free berth as co-hosts in 2024 to make their T20 World Cup debut.
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