Pakistan could manage only a tie in the first one-day international against Ireland at a bitterly cold Clontarf on Thursday after Kevin O’Brien hit the last ball of the match for four.
Set a Duckworth-Lewis target of 276 to win in 47 overs, Ireland needed 15 off the last over by Saeed Ajmal, the No. 1 ranked bowler, but O’Brien, the destroyer of England at the last World Cup, hit the fourth ball for six to set up the thrilling finale.
He could not manage a repeat off the last ball to win the game for the leading associate country, but the boundary brought about the 28th tie in ODI history.
O’Brien finished 84 not out from just 47 balls, with 11 fours and two sixes, and followed on from Paul Stirling’s rampaging opening when he hit a 102-ball century to set up Ireland’s victory charge.
Ireland had famously beaten Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup, but they were never favorites to win this one.
The tourists always appeared to hold the upper hand, getting wickets at vital times, but they will look back at the chance O’Brien gave to Mohammad Irfan, when he was only 19, as the one that got away and ultimately cost them victory.
Ajmal’s figures of none for 71 were his worst in 80 ODIs.
On the day, he was out-bowled by spin twin Mohammad Hafeez who finished with two for 34, while Irfan had to make do with the wicket of Stirling. Junaid Khan also picked up two wickets, but he conceded six runs an over.
The Pakistan innings was interrupted four times by rain, but only three overs were lost and the tourists scored 144 off 16 overs after the final rain break to finish on 266-5.
All-rounder Hafeez still considers himself primarily a batsman and he showed why with a fluent innings full of well-timed drives and deft, late cuts.
When he brought up his century in the 44th over, he kissed the Clontarf pitch before raising his bat to the many Pakistan fans at the Dublin venue.
Nasir Jamshed had to retire hurt with back trouble early in his innings, although he returned later, and when Imran Farhat was caught at first slip by Stirling, both openers were back in the pavilion with only 33 on the board.
However, the Hafeez-Shafiq partnership put Pakistan in control, broken when the latter was caught at long-on, his 84 coming off just 89 balls with nine boundaries.
Captain Misbah-ul-Haq was run out without facing a ball, after both batsmen ended up in the middle of the pitch, but three fours from Kamran Akmal and a final flourish from Hafeez, who fittingly ended the innings with another boundary, left Ireland with much to do.
Not for nothing, though, are they the ranked the leading nation outside the Full Members and Pakistan were just grateful to escape with a tie.