New Zealand 179 for 4 (Cleaver 78*, Little 2-31, Young 2-34) beat Ireland 91 (Adair 27, Bracewell 3-5, Sodhi 3-21) by 88 runs
A patient yet effective 55-ball 78* from Dane Cleaver, and a dominating effort from New Zealand's bowlers handed the visitors a resounding 88-run win over Ireland in the second T20I in Belfast. The victory sealed the three-game series for New Zealand, giving them an unassailable 2-0 lead with one game still to go.
For the second game in a row, Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie's decision to bowl first proved costly, as New Zealand posted 179 for 4 in 20 overs. Cleaver, playing only his second T20I, hit five fours and four sixes, and stayed right till the end after coming in to bat at No. 3 in the fifth over.
Then New Zealand's well-rounded bowling unit did the rest, helped in part by some unnecessary attacking shots or risky runs from the Ireland batters. If it wasn't for a 37-run stand for the eighth wicket between Mark Adair and Barry McCarthy, Ireland's total could've been far lesser than their eventual score of 91.
The spin twins Ish Sodhi and Michael Bracewell were the pick of the bowlers for New Zealand, taking three wickets each. Sodhi's scalps of Curtis Campher, Lorcan Tucker and George Dockrell broke Ireland's back in the middle overs, leaving him with figures of 3 for 21 but Bracewell had the widest smile by the end of the game. Bowling his first over in T20Is, the offspinner cleaned up the Ireland tail with three wickets in three balls, thus making him only the third New Zealand bowler after Jacob Oram and Tim Southee to achieve a T20I hat-trick.
Spinners headline Irish collapse
Ireland's chase of 180 began with some potential as Mitchell Santner was walloped by Paul Stirling for a six and a four in the very first over. Then when Lockie Ferguson was dispatched by Stirling for four more through the covers, it seemed like the Ireland opener could be the big-hitter around whom the rest of Ireland's batters could rally.
However, three balls after the Ferguson four, Stirling fell slicing a catch to mid off, and thereafter the floodgates opened. From the other end, Jacob Duffy had Gareth Delany bowled for a first-ball duck in the fourth over with the batter failing to get forward to a fullish ball, and Harry Tector then paid the price of being impatient, run-out to a direct-hit from Glenn Phillips at cover while trying to take the fielder on for a quick single.
Having gone from 23 for no loss to 27 for 3 in the space of eight deliveries, it was up to the prodigy Campher and Balbirnie to stick a partnership together, but the latter was the next to go, becoming Duffy's second scalp. Duffy went full and wide, got the ball to swing away under cloudy conditions, and all Balbirnie's drive could do was take an outside edge to Cleaver wearing the gloves. After a quiet - and rare wicketless - over, Sodhi got among the wickets too in his first over of the game.
Tucker tried to slog sweep the legspinner, only to lose stock of where the mistimed ball went. It had dribbled past him to the wicketkeeper, and as Tucker tried to pinch a single thinking the ball has gone elsewhere, he was stumped. Next ball, Sodhi brought a slip fielder for the new batter and Dockrell edged it to James Neesham in the cordon.
With the score at 45 for 6, and ESPNcricinfo's forecaster giving Ireland less than 1% chance of a win, the pressure was off the Ireland lower order. Mark Adair, in particular, hit a few lusty blows after Campher became Sodhi's third (and Ireland's seventh) wicket. Adair went 4, 4, 6 off Sodhi's third over to ruin his otherwise tidy bowling figures and then drilled Neesham over his head for another boundary. His partner for the eighth-wicket stand, Barry McCarthy, tonked Neesham and Bracewell for a couple of fours too.
But Bracewell's offbreak had Adair caught at deep midwicket for a 22-ball 27, and with the batters crossing, McCarthy too was out next ball, slogging to the same region. On a hat-trick, Bracewell had better luck than Sodhi, taking his third wicket in three balls as the No. 11 Craig Young tried to clear cover, only to slice a catch behind point, and ending Ireland's innings at 91.
Cleaver follows his cousin's footsteps
Having made his T20I debut at the age of 30 only two days ago, it was another chance for Cleaver to make the most of the opportunity of batting at No. 3 for New Zealand with senior batters being rested for the T20Is. Coming in at a position favoured by his first-cousin Kane Williamson - after the fall of Finn Allen's wicket, Cleaver made a sedate start, but kept upping his gears right until the 20th over.
Allen's blitz at the top had allowed New Zealand to race to 40 for no loss after four overs, but he fell for a 20-ball 35 trying to take McCarthy on in the fifth over. With Martin Guptill struggling with his timing, and Cleaver playing but missing the swinging deliveries offered by the Irish seamers, it seemed like the hosts would provide yet another squeeze to the New Zealand top order like the first T20I.
But Cleaver grew in confidence, in particular trusting the bounce on offer to play the pull on numerous occasions to finally get off the blocks. Even with Guptill falling for a 17-ball 11 in the ninth over, Cleaver motored along at a strike-rate of under 110 to move into his twenties in Phillips' company for the third wicket. Together, they added 53 in 5.2 overs, and as Cleaver's confidence grew, so did his choice of shots. He scooped McCarthy for an ingenious six over the keeper one time, and then played a sliced drive on purpose to beat the fielder at deep point.
However, Cleaver did receive a reprieve on 40 when he skipped down the ground to a Dockrell slider, only to miss it. But the wicketkeeper Tucker failed to grab it, and Cleaver offered no further chances. He picked Adair's two slower balls in the 16th over well enough to smack them for boundaries, then brought up his maiden half-century in 39 balls with a six over deep midwicket. Daryl Mitchell, the No. 5, contributed just 14 runs in his 48-run stand with Cleaver, letting the man in form enjoy most of the strike.
Cleaver would go on to thump Young for a pulled six in the 18th, then tonked Josh Little for three fours in four balls in the 19th, and earned his final boundary off the innings' penultimate ball by slicing a four behind square on the off side. In all, New Zealand made 50 off the last five and Cleaver finished unbeaten on 78 in 55 balls. His performance eventually eked out the Sodhi-Bracewell efforts in the second innings to also earn him the Player of the Match award.