Irish taking it to the max in quest to clear path towards Test status
They didn't make it easy for themselves but the sun shone all day for Ireland to complete a seventh straight win in the Intercontinental Cup and seal another maximum-points victory, consolidating their position at the top of the table.
It's four down and three to go for the Irish as they chase the Holy Grail of Test match status but there is plenty of work ahead as the more difficult assignments lie ahead for what is still a young and inexperienced side in red-ball cricket.
It needed the know-how of Tim Murtagh and the reverse bowling skills of Kevin O'Brien to defend their lead of 309 and claim the 10 Hong Kong wickets which earned Ireland a 70-run victory, with only an hour to spare on the final day at Stormont.
But Boyd Rankin's return for the next game, the top of the table clash with Afghanistan in India at the end of March, is a must and Andy McBrine, surprisingly omitted for this game, would appear a certainty as a specialist spin bowler.
The Netherlands and Scotland are the other teams lying in wait next year before the final positions in the table are confirmed, but for now Ireland can reflect on completing the first half of the job from their four 'easiest' fixtures.
Mathematically they could not have done any better and as they take a 19-point lead into the Afghanistan game it gives them the comfort of knowing a first innings lead in Greater Noida will be enough to retain their table-topping position.
Ireland's target when they resumed yesterday morning was to extend their overnight lead of 278 to 300 as quickly as possible. It took them only 15 balls, the highlight being a straight six by Murtagh, and with that part of the job done they were not worried as they lost their remaining three wickets for just nine more runs.
That left the bowlers 97 overs to take 10 wickets and when Murtagh struck with the last ball of the first over it was the perfect start. Murtagh made it two in his sixth over, a significant dismissal for wicket-keeper Niall O'Brien as it was his 191st for Ireland, taking him past previous record holder, former Sion Mills great Ossie Colhoun's tally, in just 87 matches. This was O'Brien's 132nd, although Colhoun played only five one-day games.
Spin was always likely to play a big part in Ireland's victory push on a wearing pitch and it was encouraging that George Dockrell took only six overs to get among the wickets yesterday. The immovable object was Nizakat Khan, although not for his want of trying.
Ireland missed the entertaining right hander five times, the first when he had scored just six, the third and fourth from John Anderson's first two balls of the match when he was on 88 and the last on 92. Little wonder he knelt down and kissed the pitch when he completed his maiden first class century, from 136 balls with 12 fours and a six.
That occurred in the extra 15 minutes before tea requested by Ireland captain William Porterfield in the expectation that he could take the final two wickets before the break. Instead, it took them another 50 minutes as the Hong Kong No.10, Nadeem Ahmed - the best bowler in the match - enjoyed himself in a stand of 61 with Nizakat as the Ireland bowlers grew increasingly frustrated. Anderson had caused the most panic with his big turning leg breaks although, ironically, his one wicket was from a wide long hop, hit straight to second slip.
Nadeem was finally dismissed, by the persevering Peter Chase, in the 80th over, and six balls later, Murtagh finished the match with the second new ball which ended Nizakat's resistance.
The teams meet again at Bready on Monday and Tuesday in two T20s (both 3.30pm), on days of double-headers with Ireland Women meeting Bangladesh at 10.30am.