BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Aaron Finch made another scratchy start before breaking the shackles in a half-century that set Australia on course for a 42-run win over Ireland on Monday in a crucial Group 1 match for the defending champions at the Twenty20 World Cup.
Finch has been critical of his own form and took a while to get going before posting 63 from 44 balls as Australia accelerated late to reach 179-5 after being sent in to bat by Ireland.
The Irish got away to a flyer in reply with skipper Andy Balbirnie and veteran opener Paul Stirling each hitting a six in the first two overs before the Australian bowlers struck back ruthlessly with five wickets in 13 deliveries to dismantle the top order and leave them reeling at 25-5.
Lorcan Tucker’s lone hand of 71 delayed the inevitable, helping Ireland reach 137 in 18.1 overs.
The win improved Australia’s net run rate and put the 2021 champion back in contention for a spot in the semifinals on five points despite its heavy loss to New Zealand in the opening match of the Super 12s.
New Zealand leads the six-team group with five points from two wins and a washout ahead of Tuesday’s game against England. The English, after an upset loss to Ireland, are tied with the Irish on three points. The top two teams in both groups advance to the semifinals after the round-robin.
Finch’s first half century of the tournament was tempered by a hamstring strain that meant he could only field for seven overs before handing the captaincy duties over to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade and going off for treatment.
The Australian skipper had kept the innings together, sharing a 52-run second-wicket stand with Mitch Marsh (28), 24 for the third wicket with Glenn Maxwell (13) and 70 for the fourth with Marcus Stoinis, who scored 35 from 25 balls.
Finch said he’d felt like it was only a matter of time before he batted himself into form.
“You get out in the middle and you let your instinct take over,” he said. “T20 is a high-risk game at times. Sometimes you get them out of the middle early, sometimes you don’t.”
Finch said 180 was a decent total on a pitch that was dry and relatively slow by usual standards at the Gabba.
“We knew we had to lay the foundation early. We couldn’t pull the trigger and risk being four or five (wickets) down at the 12 or 13-over mark, then you might leave yourself a little short,” he said. “I thought we did really well to get there.”
Barry McCarthy led the Irish attack with 3-29, dismissing opener David Warner with his first delivery and breaking up the second-wicket partnership by removing Marsh with the first ball of his second over, the ninth of the innings. He returned to have Finch caught on the long-on boundary in the 17th.
Pace bowler Josh Little returned 2-21 and the spinners were economical but seamer Mark Adair conceded 59 runs, including 26 off one over — his third — which included five wides.
Australia’s bowlers dominated the power play, with spinner Maxwell (2-14) taking two wickets in the third over and left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc (2-43) bowling Curtis Camphers (0) and George Dockrell (0) with full in-swinging balls in the fourth.
Pat Cummins (2-28) and legspinner Adam Zampa (2-19) also took two wickets apiece but the Australian attack couldn’t fully contain the innings as Tucker combined with the lower order to add 112 for Ireland and prolong the game.
“It was hard fought. Certainly in the first innings it could have got away from us but we bowled pretty well — a couple of overs just didn’t go our way,” Balbirnie said. “Certainly we didn’t get the start with the bat that we wanted but to show that bit of fight at the end shows we’re making progress and we can keep up with these big teams when we get the chance.”
Australia finishes the Super 12 stage against Afghanistan on Friday. Ireland is set to finish against 2021 runner-up New Zealand.