THE bowlers hauled Ireland back into pole position at the halfway stage of their Intercontinental Cup clash with Papua New Guinea in Townsville and leading from the front was the returning hero, Boyd Rankin.

The England Test bowler, back with his former team-mates after an absence of exactly 40 months, was unplayable at times as the hapless PNG batsmen were unable to deal with the pace and bounce which Rankin generated from a slow surface.

In all, the gentle giant from Bready sent down 16 overs, in four-over spells due to the fierce heat, conceding just three twos and six singles off the bat. His first ball was a nervous beamer but after that he proved just too hot to handle.

His first wicket came in his fifth over, a catch at third slip, and he hit the stumps for the first time three overs before the close to reduce PNG to 155 for seven, still 134 behind Ireland’s first innings total.

Rankin received excellent support from his successor at Bready, Craig Young who, after conceding 22 runs in his first five overs, stormed back to take two wickets for 14 in his next two spells. But the pick of the bowlers was Middlesex seamer Tim Murtagh who made the initial breakthrough with the fourth ball of the innings and finished with three for 30 from 17 overs – no one bowled more.

“It’s up there with the most uncomfortable days, in terms of sweating, but we stuck to it well and were disappointed they were not bowled out tonight,” said Murtagh. “But we are in control of the game and if we can mop up the last three wickets in the morning we will be in a really good position.

“It’s great to have Boyd back, he just adds that different threat we have been missing for the last three years.”
Spinners Andy McBrine and George Dockrell are still waiting for their first wickets but they should come into their own in the fourth innings, by which stage Ireland will hope to have PNG out of sight.

The batting disappointed in the morning, the last five wickets adding just 57 runs, mainly due to a seventh wicket stand of 41 between Ireland’s two slow bowlers.