Ireland poised to win without Trent Johnston
Ireland colossus Trent Johnston may be denied one last hurrah by injury. The 39-year-old hobbled out of the Intercontinental Cup final against Afghanistan in Dubai just before tea yesterday and did not reappear for the final session.
None of the Ireland management team would reveal what the injury was, but neither would they rule out a return this morning as Ireland sought the final five wickets which would win the Intercontinental Cup.
Afghanistan, the holders, started the fourth day this morning needing 211 runs but Ireland, who took the first five wickets of the final innings for just 85, are hot favourites to hold all three trophies in Associate cricket in each form of the game.
Johnston, in his 198th and final game for Ireland, almost 10 years after his debut, did manage two overs with the new ball and has already taken the 273rd of his career, trapping Shabir Noori plumb in front.
But seven balls later he left the field and everyone in the Irish camp was hoping that a night's rest would allow him back on the field to play a meaningful part in what should be a victory lap for Ireland.
The records with the bat were never threatened yesterday. Ed Joyce was out in the first over, having added just one more boundary four to his overnight total and that set the pattern for another wicket-laden day.
Ireland lost their remaining seven wickets in just three and-a-half hours, bowled out for 341 and then dismissed half the Afghanistan side in 22 overs, setting up the possibility of a three-day victory.
However, a 50-run partnership between Rehmat Shah and captain Mohammad Nabi thwarted the Ireland bowlers in the final hour to keep everyone waiting for the last rites.
It was the not the way captain William Porterfield expected the day to pan out but he was more than happy with Ireland's position at the end of it.
Porterfield said: "We would have liked to have been batting in the final session tonight but to take five wickets was a fantastic effort.
"It is a decent cricket wicket in that there is something there for the bowlers, so the batsmen must expect to be put under pressure and wickets to fall.
But if you had given me 346 to defend in the fourth innings, especially after our first day's batting, I would definitely have taken it."
And as for Johnston's hopes of taking the field again, the captain would only say: "We'll find out about TJ in the morning. Obviously he will be desperate to be out there in his last game taking wickets for the team.
"He got us off to a great start and got a nick from his first ball and a wicket off his fifth so it was a pretty action packed 12 balls, and hopefully he will be out with us sometime tomorrow."
There is no shortage of replacements for Johnston, however and although Tim Murtagh is missing this match, it was an opportunity for the rest of the side last night to put their hand up.
John Mooney took his sixth wicket of the match, thanks to a superb catch by Niall O'Brien down the leg side but Max Sorensen is still looking for his first wicket of the match – after 25 overs – and Kevin O'Brien was the other seam bowler used.
Ireland's not so secret weapon last night was George Dockrell, the Somerset slow left armer taking three wickets in 15 balls to put Ireland in control and, on a fourth day pitch, he will expect to add to that tally in the morning.
The most disappointed player in the Ireland side was Niall O'Brien. The second-most prolific performer in the Intercontinental Cup was caught, driving loosely, at cover, just 13 short of what would have been a record-equalling seventh century in the competition.
O'Brien said: "This is the third final I've played in, and in the two other finals I've got hundreds. So it did play on my mind a bit as I would have levelled Ryan Ten Doeschate's centuries (for the Netherlands).
"So from my point of view, personally, it's really disappointing.
"But from the team point of view, I think we managed to put a pretty good score on the board and we are just looking forward to keeping things tight in the morning and hoping to take the remaining wickets for the victory."
The other Ireland player averaging over 60 in the competition was Andrew White but he was aggrieved to be given out leg before for 39, and then Kevin O'Brien with a breezy 47, from 43 balls with nine fours, shared a stand of 41 with Johnston who threatened to hit a fairytale half-century in his final innings, only to be cut short on 31, when he holed out to long-on.
A fourth I-Cup winners' medal, however, today, should be Johnston's epitaph.