Andy Balbirnie called time on his captaincy of Ireland in white-ball cricket last night after a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign, and handed the reins to his great mate and long-time colleague Paul Stirling.

Balbirnie will remain skipper of the Test match side but feels a change is needed in the shorter formats and Stirling will be in charge when the European qualifiers for the 2024 T20 World Cup start in Edinburgh later this month.

“I feel this is the right time for me, but more importantly the team,” Balbirnie said. “I will continue to do my best for this team and work hard to contribute towards what I hope will be a successful period over the next number of years.”

The 32-year-old, who plays his club cricket for Pembroke, took over from William Porterfield in 2019 and has led his country in four Test matches, 33 one-day internationals and 52 T20s.

Stirling has already captained Ireland 13 times, including a 2-1 ODI series win against the West Indies in Jamaica last year, and is Ireland’s most experienced player.

Balbirnie’s final game as ODI skipper was a nervy two-wicket win against Nepal in Harare yesterday with Barry McCarthy striking the second ball of the final over for four to secure a seventh-place finish in the World Cup qualifiers.

After failing to reach the Super Six, finishing best of the rest was the very least that Irish fans would have demanded but for lengthy periods in pursuit of 268-9 it looked as though a third loss to an Associate side was on the cards.

Andy McBrine fell for 17, equalling his lowest score in six innings as an experimental opener, Balbirnie soon followed for a single and when Stirling was bowled for a subdued 15 from 24 balls, Ireland were in trouble on 60-3.

Not for the first time Harry Tector got the chase on track with his 11th ODI half-century, adding 58 with his great friend Lorcan Tucker whom he had presented with a cap before the start to mark the wicketkeeper’s 100th international appearance.

When Tucker was adjudged lbw for 24 and Tector holed out on the long off boundary on 60, Curtis Campher and George Dockrell added 84 for the sixth wicket and the task looked a formality when the former struck a six and a four at the start of the 41st over.

Campher thoughtlessly pulled the next ball to deep backward square, though, and with 51 needed from 57 balls the result was back in the balance as he trudged off with a top score of 62.

The experience of Dockrell should have been sufficient for him to see the job done but on 33 the veteran all-rounder picked out long on and when Mark Adair was also caught on the boundary for a breezy 18, five runs were still required from seven balls. 

Enter McCarthy.

An Ireland attack again missing Josh Little, who has an injured toe apparently, should have restricted Nepal to 30-40 fewer runs after two early wickets for seamer Craig Young, and a couple in the middle overs for McCarthy reduced the Associates to 169-7.

Just as in the Scotland game it was the eighth-wicket partnership that did the damage, with the Nepal tail somehow finding 99 runs from the final 13 overs.

Ireland will fly home today no doubt wondering how things would have turned out if they had beaten Scotland in that last-ball group game thriller but surely knowing that, despite several fine individual performances, the cricket they played during the qualifiers was not good enough.