Ireland on a roll after securing Super Six place
Ireland's progress to the Super Six stage of the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe was even easier than expected as UAE again proved canon fodder for William Porterfield's side.
The captain, along with Paul Stirling, put on a record one-day international partnership for the first wicket of 205 against a team they have now dispatched in six ODIs, and after that it was not if but when Ireland would complete the first part of their mission to reach the finals in England next year.
The hard work starts on Friday with a game against the hosts, with matches against Scotland and Afghanistan to follow, the Afghans still clinging to outside hopes of a finals place by making the Super Six through the back door after Nepal defeated Hong Kong.
But this Ireland squad, who were only a couple of missed opportunities away from toppling tournament favourites West Indies on Saturday, will go into the next stage with confidence and in the knowledge they have beaten all three opponents in their last meetings.
And it is a squad because not only did Barry McCarthy return as expected, but Simi Singh came in as the second spinner as Ireland made two changes, one enforced as Gary Wilson was back in England yesterday alongside his wife for the birth of their first child, a son born during the game at Old Hararians.
Wilson is due back for the game against Zimbabwe but it will be hard to dislodge either of the two replacements. McCarthy picked up his usual two wickets — for the sixth successive international — and Singh took 3-15 after Andy McBrine had gone wicketless in his six overs.
The bowling star yesterday, however, was Boyd Rankin, who was much too hostile for the UAE middle order, taking four wickets in 10 balls to finish with career-best ODI figures of 4-15.
The first ball of his third over was short and straight and skipper Rohan Mustafa could only fend it to fly slip. Two balls later, the gully fielder was in the action and in his next over, two more batsmen perished with pull shots into the leg side.
As Porterfield said afterwards: “He is fantastic for us coming on after the new ball and he can change games at any time.” He will be a huge threat to every team in the next stage.
Stirling is another match-winner in this team and, after looking good but getting out early in the first three games, this time he made no mistake, scoring his seventh ODI century from 106 balls with 12 fours and three sixes and then adding another five boundaries in his next nine balls to reach 126, a score bettered in ODIs for Ireland only four times.
Porterfield was the first to go, dismissed, remarkably, for the first time in the 90s — in his 279th innings for Ireland — seven short of his 19th century, but Kevin O’Brien continued the onslaught with a 26-ball 50, which featured seven fours and a six.
It was men against boys but as a confidence boost ahead of the Super Six it was the perfect day.