Ireland are two matches away from the World Twenty20 finals in Sri Lanka after a stunning performance in the first play-off game against Canada.
Victory today against the Netherlands would set up a Qualifying final against Namibia tomorrow morning, after they lost to Afghanistan in the Elimination Final. The Afghans go straight through to the finals in September and the second qualifier will now be decided tomorrow morning.
Ireland, though, are now confident of going all the way, following the 10 wickets destruction of Canada with Paul Stirling, after a slow start to the tournament, scoring his first 50 and in record time, just 21 balls; no-one has ever scored a quicker one for Ireland in 793 games.
Stirling finished 61 not out as Ireland raced to their victory target of 107 in just 9.3 overs, with opening partner William Porterfield, no slouch himself, scoring 42 off just 25 balls with eight boundaries.
But for entertainment value this was all about Stirling, whose last four innings against the Canadians have now produced a staggering 371 runs.
“It was good fun,” he said, “and nice to get some runs for the first time in a while and, of course, to get the win. I’ve been doing pretty well against Canada recently and it was nice to keep it going,” said Stirling.
“Porty had taken the record off me (last week against Kenya when he scored 50 in 23 balls) so it was nice to get it back again (having scoring a half century against the Dutch at the World Cup in India last year off 25 balls).
“I thought he was going to take it off me in the same innings because he was going so well. I just had to make sure there weren’t enough runs left for him to score 50,” he joked.
Going into this morning’s game against the Dutch, though, Stirling was taking nothing for granted.
“We have a lot of momentum now, that’s seven wins in a row. But we have to start again tomorrow and the Dutch are one of the strongest sides,” he said.
For the record, Stirling hit nine fours and three sixes in his whirlwind innings, still four runs short of his best T20 score but 20 balls quicker.
At the start of the tournament, National Coach Phil Simmons predicted that the Middlesex opener would make a big impact on this tournament and if it gets bigger than this then Ireland should be heading to Sri Lanka.
And not only is the team’s batting hitting form at the right time but so too are the bowlers, led yesterday by Trent Johnston who upstaged Stirling with his four overs at the top of the Canada innings, which brought him figures of two for nine.
Boyd Rankin, for once, was wicketless and when Max Sorensen bowled his first over for 13, it looked as if his bowling for the day was at an end. But Porterfield recalled him and the South African got three for 20.
Meanwhile, Tim Murtagh, the uncapped Middlesex pace bowler, last night officially joined the Ireland squad as a replacement for Alex Cusack, who has been ruled unfit to take any further part in the tournament.