|Twenty20 World Cup Qualifier, UAE 2012|
Brilliant Ireland breeze into finals
Robin Walsh (Sunday Life)
Ireland brilliantly breezed their way into the Twenty20 World Cup finals on a super Saturday here in Dubai and did no harm to their lofty ambition of becoming a Test country by 2020.
First they demolished Namibia by nine wickets to join Afghanistan and the 10 Test countries on the world stage in Sri Lanka come September. Then five hours later under lights they beat the hitherto undefeated Afghanistan by five wickets to win the qualifying tournament final.
Then the icing on the cake:five hours later under lights they beat the hitherto undefeated Afghanistan by five wickets to win the qualifying tournament final.
An incredible 79 in a mere 38 balls by Paul Stirling took Ireland to victiry as they chased down 152 for 7.
The 21 year-old got to his second half-century of the day in a mere 17 balls - the second quickest in the history of international Twenty20 cricket and it made Stirling the top scorer of the tournament with a total of 357.
But it was the Namibian game that mattered with the last of the two qualifying places the glittering prize. And Ireland grabbed it with both hands.
Namibia mysteriously decided to bat first on a pitch that gave early help to the pace bowlers.
They paid a heavy price, completely folding to 94 for 6 under an Irish assault that was the best of the tournament.
Max Sorensen led the way with the remarkable figures of 2 for 8 off his maximum four overs and such was the excellence of Trent Johnston (2-19), Boyd Rankin (2-17) and the off spin of Paul Stirling (1-20) that the potent left arm spin of George Dockrell was not even used.
Sorensen picked up the man of the match award just ahead of Stirling whose belligerent hitting took him to 59 off just 32 balls and Ireland to 96 for 1.
Ireland had made life difficult when they lost their first group match - and to Namibia at that. But no fewer than nine straight wins took them to their promised land - including three sudden death encounters in the climactic knock-out stages.
First up was a 10 wicket thrashing of Canada on Thursday, then a seven wicket demolition of The Netherlands on Friday and finally the hat trick against Namibia.
Man of the match awards tell the story of a superb all round team performance during qualification. Six different players took the trophy: three times to Rankin, twice to Kevin O,Brien and one each to Johnston, Ed Joyce, Gary Wilson and Sorensen.
The openers in both disciplines led the way. Rankin was outstanding as top wicket taker with 14 and an economy rate of just four an over with the wily Johnston returning 12 wickets and an economy of 5.3.
Dockrellís spin netted 13 wickets with an economy of just under six. Stirling (278 runs/ average 39.7) and skipper William Porterfield (235/29.3) ensured many of the successful run chases, aided and abetted by Wilson (206/41.75) Kevin O,Brien (188/31.8) and Ed Joyce (179/39.7).
Both OíBrien and Stirling fell just short of scoring at a rate of 150 runs per 100 balls. So to Sri Lanka and a group that will involve Australia and West Indies.
Tough - but, remember, itís Twenty20.