Joyce back with ton to inspire Irish to success
It is only 33 days since Ireland beat Afghanistan in the UAE to win the three-match series, but the interval proved too long for the batsmen to retain their form when they returned to the middle in Dubai yesterday. But this time, Ed Joyce was in the team.
Playing his first game for five months - a knee injury kept him out of last month's tour - Joyce eased back into action with his sixth one-day international century, seeing Ireland to a last over victory against UAE in their first match of World Cup qualifying year.
Ireland have nine more games before they begin the tournament in Zimbabwe at the beginning of March, but an in-form and fit Joyce could be the difference between failure and success. His undefeated 116 not out - fittingly, he hit the winning runs with four balls to spare - was his joint second best ODI score, topped only by the 160 not out against Afghanistan at Stormont in July 2016.
That was the last time Joyce, now 39 years old, reached three figures and, although he had played only 13 internationals since, questions were being asked if he still had the hunger and the stamina to play the long innings.
He proved it in his customary style yesterday, facing 149 balls, hitting 13 fours and a six in Ireland's perfectly timed chase to their 223 runs victory target.
Joyce shared a sixth wicket stand of 131 with Gary Wilson, who had scored only 14 runs in three innings against the Afghans last month, but new coach Graham Ford - who made him captain in his time at Surrey - wanted to see more, and Wilson paid back his faith with 53.
His last half-century in an ODI was in the same match as Joyce's 160, and playing as the extra batsman here - Ireland left out Andy McBrine, Simi Singh and Jacob Mulder - he faced 83 balls, hitting just three boundaries, but it was just what was required after the side had slumped to 91 for five.
Although Joyce didn't open, he faced more than half the balls bowled because he was in the middle in the third over, leading the rescue mission after Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie were both victims of Mohammad Naveed, who had also dismissed them in the first ODI in Dubai last March.
William Porterfield got to 28 off 31 balls before he was caught behind, as was Niall O'Brien who, like his brother Kevin, failed to get into double figures.
Porterfield had won the toss and, although Barry McCarthy took a wicket with his ninth ball - the first of five catches, an Ireland ODI record, for Niall O'Brien - the UAE had 60 up in 12 overs before Peter Chase broke the dangerous partnership.
Boyd Rankin, playing his 100th game for Ireland, had to wait until his last over for his first wicket, but it was the big one of UAE top scorer Rameez Shahzad and after his dismissal the hosts added only four runs from the last 11 balls.
It probably would have been enough - but Joyce was back.