Lockie Ferguson, Glenn Phillips pave the way for New Zealand's 31-run win over Ireland in first T20I

Josh Little's four-wicket ends up as a footnote in the game as Ireland fail to chase 174

New Zealand 173 for 8 (Phillips 69*, Little 4-35) beat Ireland 142 all out (Campher 29, Ferguson 4-14) by 31 runs

Lockie Ferguson used his assortment of quick deliveries and change-ups to take a four-wicket haul, and in the process left Ireland 31 runs short of New Zealand’s score of 173, handing the visitors a 1-0 lead in the three-match T20I series.

In sunny (and warm) Belfast conditions, Ireland dominated for most of the first innings, leaving New Zealand struggling at 100 for 5, but Glenn Phillips’ late flurry with the bat pushed the visitors to 173 for 8 in 20 overs.

After Phillips’ unbeaten 52-ball 69, Ferguson took charge of proceedings, dismissing Gareth Delany and Paul Stirling early. He then returned to remove Ireland’s top scorer Curtis Campher for 29 and took the final wicket of the game, Craig Young caught behind.

Ireland had some positives, especially left-arm seamer Josh Little’s four-wicket haul that strangled New Zealand for most of the first innings. But they conceded 61 runs in the last five overs and that proved to be the turning point in the end. Phillips was the man who did most of the damage in this period and because of that he was fittingly named Player of the Match.

NZ bowlers rally around Ferguson

Early wickets were needed for New Zealand’s fairly inexperienced bowling unit to defend 173, and they came starting with a backpedaling catch from captain Mitchell Santner in the third over. Jacob Duffy, playing for the first time since his appearance against Bangladesh in 2021, forced a miscued inside-out shot from Andy Balbirnie to get that opening wicket. After that, Ferguson picked off Stirling and Delany fairly cheaply.

The middle-overs squeeze came from Santner, James Neesham and Ish Sodhi, the trio sharing five wickets in their 11 overs, as Ireland stumbled to 96 for 7 by the 13th. The seventh wicket was that of Campher’s, who appeared to be the only Irish batter willing to muster up a challenge, but he was done in by a Ferguson yorker – plumb lbw – and then the tail wagged but not for long enough.

As the pitch got older, run-scoring got tougher, and Santner and Neesham in particular made it even more difficult by changing their speeds and not offering deliveries at the arc of the Irish batters. Santner picked up the wickets of Harry Tector and Lorcan Tucker with edges to short third man and the wicketkeeper respectively while Neesham’s two strikes in the 17th over sent Ireland from seven down to nine down in the space of four balls.

Ferguson then finished the game off, delivering a bouncer to No. 10 Young, who gloved it to the debutant Dane Cleaver.

New Zealand struggle with the bat

With key senior players missing from the T20I tour for New Zealand, the onus was on Martin Guptill to provide a rollicking start after they were put in to bat. But while he did race to 24 off 11 balls, three of his five boundaries were off the edge, and he eventually fell searching for a big shot to Mark Adair in the third over. His opening partner Finn Allen smacked a cut off Little straight to cover for 1 off 7 balls and the debutant Cleaver fell early too, gloving a short ball from Little through to the keeper.

At 38 for 3, New Zealand’s innings needed resuscitation. Phillips tried to do that by pushing his partner Daryl Mitchell for an extra run whenever he could on a Stormont ground where the square boundaries were quite large. But Mitchell struggled with timing, and Campher’s medium-pace had him walking back to the pavillion after he top-edged a short ball for a 10-ball 5. At 54 for 4, Ireland had the upper hand.

Phillips’ rescue act

With only New Zealand’s middle and lower-middle order left, Phillips reined in his shot-making to try and last the whole innings. In Neesham, he found someone who could be the risk-taker, and Neesham’s 16-ball 29 in a partnership of 46 helped New Zealand reach triple-digits by the 14th over. However, Neesham fell next ball to left-arm spinner George Dockrell before the slog-overs explosion could really come about.

Joined by No. 7 Michael Bracewell – on T20I debut – Phillips was on 28 in 31 balls with six overs to go. But he thumped Little for two fours in the 15th over to get his strike-rate to over 100, and then, off the same bowler, slashed a four behind point in the 19th over to reach his fifty in 45 balls.

Phillips saved his best for the final over. After surviving a lucky toe-ended shot that squirted past the keeper for four, Phillips clattered Adair for four and six to take 19 runs off the 20th to not only finish on a tidy 69 but also hand New Zealand the momentum at the break.