|Twenty20 World Cup Qualifier, UAE 2012|
Ireland win a classic final
Ger Siggins (Sunday Independent)
Ireland qualified for their third successive World Twenty20 by thrashing Namibia in the first of two games yesterday, but any fears that the evening final would be an anti-climax were shown to be nonsense as a classic was served up.
A fantastic innings of 77 by the pugnacious Mohammed Shehzad led Afghanistan to 152-7, but Paul Stirling beat that by 2 runs with the second fastest T20 fifty ever - in just 16 balls. His total of 357 runs was the best of the tournament. Ireland had a couple of hiccups on the way, but the trophy was secured with seven balls to spare.
Qualifying for Sri Lanka was the main aim, but with the ICC offices less than 200 metres away, Ireland took the opportunity to show how far it is ahead of fellow associates, against whom they have won 30 out of their last 33 games, two of the defeats by just four runs.
It should be clear to ICC that Ireland are far too strong for their current level, but what they need to be convinced of is that we can compete at the top tier. The ambition of playing tests by 2020 can only be achieved with regular wins over full members, and that can best be realised at World Cups.
This campaign started with defeat to seventh-ranked Namibia, but Ireland often start slowly. Needing to win nine games in a row to qualify, they achieved their goal with little drama, with just one tight game against Italy to unnerve the Blarney Army.
It was a near-perfect marshalling of resources, with leading T20 bat Niall O'Brien suspended beforehand, and all-rounders Alex Cusack and John Mooney invalided out. That meant fringe players needed to step up, and Phil Simmons can have no complaints on that score. Gary Wilson had a brilliant run with the bat and kept a tidy wicket.
But it was the array of bowling talent that ensured Ireland's passage, even with the loss of Cusack and Mooney. Trent Johnston and Boyd Rankin could always be relied upon to make an early breakthrough, five times taking a first-over wicket.
Rankin has improved since joining the England set-up and there are real concerns that he might win a Three Lions call-up. Johnston has spent much of the past year nursing his knee, and the eventual operation left him on crutches for the winter. But the talisman came into vintage form as the event progressed and his match-winning dismissal of the two top Namibians yesterday crowned his tournament.
Phil Simmons knows that he won't have one or both of his fast bowlers for much longer, hence his loyalty to Max Sorensen despite some blips and the clamour to replace him with Tim Murtagh. But The Hills bowler proved him right with some blinding spells, capped by 4-2-8-2 earlier yesterday.
The spin twins, George Dockrell and Stirling, also had their days, although Dockrell was not needed to bowl as the seamers strangled Namibia. A target of 95 was overhauled with half the overs remaining, Stirling smashing an unbeaten 59 off 32 balls. He dedicated his final shot, a reverse for four, to stricken teammate Mooney.