It was another St Patrick's Day thriller – much closer than it should have been – but Ireland took a giant stride towards the second round of the World Twenty20 despite limping over the line in their opening game against Zimbabwe.
Needing just seven runs to win from 13 balls with six wickets in hand, Ireland, somehow, took the game to the last delivery and even then Alex Cusack swung and missed. Only because Zimbabwe captain and wicket-keeper Brendan Taylor missed the stumps with his throw did Ireland avoid the even greater tension of a Super Over and win the game with a bye.
Ireland still need to beat the UAE tomorrow and the Netherlands, who yesterday beat the Emirates by six wickets, on Friday to confirm their progress into the Super 10s but the hard work should have been done and the leading Associate team are in pole position to join Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand and England in the next round-robin stage.
It was March 17, 2007 that Ireland announced their arrival on the world stage with victory at the ICC World Cup over Pakistan – two days after their opening game against Zimbabwe had finished in a tie – and, in their first game on the National Day since, they claimed a sixth Full Member scalp in a global event.
Chasing 164 for victory, openers William Porterfield and Paul Stirling gave Ireland the perfect start with a stand of 80 in 8.2 overs, dominated by Stirling, and Andrew Poynter, playing on the big stage for the first time, justified his inclusion – in preference to Niall O'Brien – with a 23-run cameo in 15 balls.
By now, though, the wickets were tumbling and when Kevin O'Brien came to the middle, after Gary Wilson had been dismissed second ball, the required run rate was back up to nine an over. O'Brien threatened to win it in one over when he hit Tinashe Panyangara for 15 in four balls, but his attempt to strike the last ball for six only found the hands of the long-off fielder and Stuart Thompson had to come to the middle.
Ed Joyce was still there, calm and professional as always, but only three singles came off the 19th over, leaving four to win from the last.
Joyce, though, who never threatened the boundary once in his 28-ball stay, was yorked off the third ball. Max Sorensen hit the fourth straight to mid-off and was run-out, leaving Thompson in strike. He tied the scores with a single next ball although he could, and probably should, have ended the game there by coming back for a second. Nervously, he turned it down and Ireland needed to scamper the bye to claim a three wickets win.
"It got a lot closer than we would have liked," admitted Porterfield (left) afterwards. "But credit to Zimbabwe, the way they bowled in the last two overs, took those wickets and put us under pressure.
"But we had a great start to get it down to 65 from the last 10 and there was a bit more in it for the seamers at the end, but we're happy with the way things went, although hopefully if in same position next time we can win it with six balls to spare. We knew the first game was going to be hard but we will regroup tomorrow then get ready for the UAE and hopefully make it two from two."
Taylor, one of five survivors from the 2007 match – Ireland had only Porterfield and O'Brien – said at halfway that he thought his side was about 20 runs short and he was proven correct. But credit for that can be given to the Ireland spinners, who bowled 12 overs for just 68 runs and taking four wickets.
George Dockrell finished with the best figures but he received great support from Andy McBrine, bowling like a veteran in his first senior game at a World Cup, and Stirling who did everything but take a wicket.
The most encouraging part of the day was the return to form of Stirling with the bat. He had totalled 19 runs in four previous games this year but, after hitting Panyangara for four successive boundaries in the last over of the powerplay, he powered on to bring up his 50 in 29 balls with a six, to go with nine fours and take the man of the match
National coach Phil Simmons said it was a significant partnership.
"When we won the qualifiers, the captain and Stirlo gave us a good start and that's what we must continue doing.
"They were good cricket shots, nothing silly. But everybody knows their roles now and hopefully we'll be more like ourselves in the field on Wednesday."