|Twenty20 World Cup Qualifier, UAE 2012|
Ireland return home triumphantly
Ian Callender (Irish Mail on Sunday)
The Ireland squad returned to Dublin Airport this afternoon with the World Twenty20 Qualifying trophy and a place in the finals in Sri Lanka in September.
They won the trophy last night in stunning fashion with a five wickets win over Afghanistan, thanks to the second fastest T20 half century ever, off just 17 balls by the player of the tournament, Paul Stirling.
He was finally dismissed for 79 from 38 balls with nine fours and three sixes but Andrew Poynter with an unbeaten 23 from just 17 balls in only his second innings of the tournament showed the strength in depth of this squad and why Ireland rule the world in Associates cricket.
The victory which confirmed their place in 12-team World Twenty 20, came in the first final of the day, against Namibia. It was their ninth win in a row after their opening day loss to the west Africans. The Ireland squad had little doubt they would avenge that defeat if the teams met in the later stages and, emphatically, they did just that by nine wickets.
Their best bowling performance of the entire tournament – captain William Porterfield did not even have to call on his first choice slow bowler George Dockrell – restricted Namibia to 94 for six and with Porterfield and Stirling getting Ireland off their usual flying start, it was all over at the beginning of the 11th over.
Stirling, who punched the air with delight after hitting the winning boundary, finished 59 not out, from just 32 balls with nine fours and a six, and also took one for 20 from his four overs, but he gave all the credit for the victory to the bowlers.
“I was just glad to bring the boys home in such an important game,” he said. “But all the credit has to go to the bowlers. To chase down a total of 95 was just an outstanding effort from the fielding unit and the bowlers and credit to Boyd (Rankin), TJ (Trent Johnston) and Max (Sorensen). They did superbly up front.
“It was one of the most important games I have played in and to reach a World Cup it was a mixture of emotions. We’ve been playing almost every day for the last two weeks, two weeks of hard work and just to get over the finish line it was such relief and what we deserved.”
He also paid tribute to National Coach Phil Simmons who, three days ago, had told him to just go out and play his own game.
“Simmo has been very good with me since my debut four years ago. Every time he has a chat with me it seems to work. It happened before Pakistan last summer (when he scored a century) and he has done well for me here,” added Stirling who finished as the leading runs scorer in the tournament with 357 runs.
And last night Simmons responded in kind, saying: “Paul has been unbelievable the last three games and that’s what we want from him. He has stopped trying to be something else and just being himself and it is just instinct and when he is playing like that he is hard to bowl to and it’s nice to see.”
Although it was Stirling’s second undefeated half century in three games, he again missed out on the man of the match award, that going to Max Sorensen whose figures of two wickets for eight runs in his four overs were the most economical of the tournament.
Last night, though, Stirling finally received personal recognition. He was certainly Ireland’s player of the tournament.