Lorcan Tucker sets up Ireland win as T20I series ends with honours even
USA fielders gave the Ireland batter two reprieves, which made the difference in the end in a seesaw contest
Ireland 150 (Tucker 84, Netravalkar 3-33, Vaghela 2-16) beat USA 141 for 7 (Modani 27, Campher 4-25) by nine runs
It went down to the final over, but Ireland managed to just about avoid another defeat in their rematch with USA in Florida, Lorcan Tucker's charmed 84 making the difference in a nine-run win on Thursday night at Broward County Stadium, as the series ended 1-1.
Having been asked to bat, Ireland struggled through much of their innings for the second day in a row, barring Tucker, who posted a second consecutive fifty after being dropped twice in what turned out to be a match-winning knock.
Just as he did a day earlier, Tucker arrived in the second over with Ireland in trouble after Paul Stirling fell missing a sweep against Nisarg Patel to be lbw for five. And Andy Balbirnie's déjà vu came in the form of a second dismissal at deep square-leg, pulling Saurabh Netravalkar to Sushant Modani to fall for ten as Ireland ended the second over at 20 for 2.
After looking uncomfortable against the pace of Ali Khan in the last game, Tucker feasted on him this time, starting in the fourth over in a 180-degree turnaround in the wrong direction for USA's bowling ace. Tucker clattered Khan for six and four, a portend of another key sequence to come at the tail end of the innings. Another two boundaries were taken off Netravalkar in the sixth over as Ireland finished the powerplay at 59 for 2.
Ireland's post-powerplay issues that haunted them during the T20 World Cup did not exactly cease in Florida, as Tucker ran out of partners. USA's spinners did well to rein in the scoring rate as the teenaged duo of Yasir Mohammad and debutant Vatsal Vaghela took two wickets apiece to put Ireland under pressure.
Yasir struck first with his legspin, getting Curtis Campher to slog sweep against the turn to produce a skied chance for Marty Kain at long-on for 17 in the seventh. Shane Getkate then skied a drive off Vaghela's left-arm spin to Ritwik Behera at long-off for five, and Ireland's promising start dissipated by the halfway stage with the score 84 for 4.
Tucker was first dropped at extra cover off Yasir's bowling by Nisarg when on 39, and Vaghela then spilt a straightforward chance off his own bowling with Tucker on 50 as a mistimed drive fluttered gently back to at knee height only to be juggled and dropped. While Tucker was reprieved, the middle-order was not, as wickets tumbled during a six-over stretch from the 11th to the 16th in which Ireland went without a boundary.
Neil Rock (caught long-on for four), William McClintock (caught long-on for one) and Mark Adair (bowled for three) fell in consecutive overs as Ireland slipped to 102 for 7 in the 14th and looked in danger of not batting out their overs. That came to fruition, but not before a crucial sequence in which Tucker attacked Khan once more in the 18th. Down to their final wicket after both Simi Singh and Barry McCarthy had fallen cheaply, Khan went in search of the one perfect yorker to put the innings on ice. Instead, it backfired, as he missed his length and the result was Tucker driving him for two sixes and a four in a 17-run over. A reverse sweep off Netravalkar produced another boundary in the 19th before Tucker fell trying to repeat the shot as Ireland ended their innings with seven balls unused.
Behera opened the chase for USA in a reshuffled batting order and was lucky to be given not out first ball on a strong lbw shout to a back-of-a-length ball from Mark Adair that skidded on to hit him in front of middle stump. But Behera could not make much of the extra chance, struggling to find rhythm in an innings of 16 off 23 balls before he was caught hooking Adair in the eighth. With fellow opener Ryan Scott run-out by sharp work from Campher off his own bowling, USA were behind the eight-ball after a slow start to the chase at 42 for 2 after eight.
After a 13-run opening over, USA went until the 14th before they scored another double-digit frame when Gajanand Singh finally opened up to slog sweep Ben White's legspin over long-on, giving USA some life. But he fell to a dubious lbw decision against Campher for 22 in the next over to a ball that replays indicated was pitching comfortably outside leg despite going in the direction of off stump.
At 109 for 4 after 17 and 42 needed off 18 balls, victory seemed an outlandish thought for USA before momentum shifted back and forth in a wild 18th over bowled by Campher. It started with a chest-high no-ball, which was heaved for six over midwicket by Modani. Though he missed out on the free-hit, another straight drive for six followed to bring the equation down to a very manageable 30 off 16. But Campher swung the pendulum back Ireland's way by taking three wickets in four balls. Modani skied a drive to Tucker at sweeper cover for 27 before Marty Kain was bowled for 11 by a back-of-a-length delivery that skidded past a pull. Mohammad's attempt at innovation failed when his attempt at a ramp over fine leg resulted in a cue shot off the toe back to Campher for a second-ball duck.
USA entered the final over needing 17 to win against Adair. After conceding 23 to Kain off the 20th a day earlier in which he erred horribly with his lines, Adair redeemed himself on Thursday night by getting his wide yorkers spot on. Three dots and a bye came off the six legal deliveries in a seven-run over to clinch victory as Tucker took home both Player of the Match and Player of the Series honours.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna