Out-of-form Ireland miss out on World Cup return
For the first time since 2001, Ireland failed to punch above their weight at a global event and, as a result, missed out on a fourth successive ICC World Cup.
Three defeats, by the three teams above them in the one-day international rankings, leave the Ireland players looking enviously across the Irish Sea in June next year when the World Cup returns to England for the first time in 20 years.
But while the vast majority of observers agree that to have only 10 teams at the sport's premier event is a disgrace, the Ireland squad know if they had played at their best they would yesterday have been playing in the final, against either West Indies or Afghanistan - the teams who will join the eight top-ranked sides at the finals.
But as Niall O'Brien acknowledged on the eve of their winner-takes-all clash with the Afghans on Friday, they have not been "at their 100 per cent best".
Opportunities were squandered to beat West Indies in the group game and a lethargic batting display against Afghanistan left them second best on the day and out of the World Cup. The last-day Super Six defeat actually meant Ireland would not even have qualified for a 12-team World Cup - with Scotland and Zimbabwe also finishing above them in the final table - this despite captain William Porterfield finishing as the fourth highest run-scorer in the tournament before yesterday's meaningless final and opening partner Paul Stirling equal sixth.
Boyd Rankin took 15 wickets - only three bowlers claimed more - and will this morning be named as the only Ireland player in the Team of the Tournament. Tim Murtagh was just two wickets behind and only one other bowled more than his eight maidens.
But it was the help for the big four which was missing - or at least not consistent enough - and was ultimately the reason why Ireland will be out in the cold next summer.
Andrew Balbirnie scored 105 in the win against Scotland but didn't reach a dozen in five of his other six innings, Niall and Kevin O'Brien each reached 50 only once and, undoubtedly, Ed Joyce was missed in the final game after averaging 32 in his five innings before age finally caught up with him in the Zimbabwe heat.
But it was the lower-order batsmen whose contributions were the glaring difference between Ireland and their rivals.
Gary Wilson, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Boyd Rankin and Tim Murtagh hit only six boundaries from the 190 balls they faced (Wilson three from 103), costing Ireland vital runs in the defeats by West Indies and Afghanistan - the top order collapsed against Zimbabwe.
Wilson had a tournament to forget with an average of 11.8 as Ireland's specialist No 7, McBrine was not out four times, but then George Dockrell was undefeated in all three games he played but his failure to take a wicket in 27 overs, which went for 133 runs, cost him his place in the team.
His replacement was Simi Singh, who finished with the remarkable figures of 8-78 at an economy rate of 3.0 but asking him to bat at No 5 in a crucial game was ambitious. His time may come, but certainly not yet.
Porterfield admitted he may not always have got his bowling changes and choices right but if the batting had come off, Ireland would almost certainly be at England 2019.
In the end, it came down to one decisive match and Ireland can have no complaints.
There was one winning Irishman in Harare last night after Afghanistan won the tournament with a resounding seven wickets victory over West Indies in the final. John Mooney, who played 182 games for Ireland, including 13 against Afghanistan, has just completed 10 weeks as fielding coach for the Afghans and this was his third WCQ success.
He admitted it was tough to commiserate with his former team-mates after ending their World Cup bid on Friday.
"I'm gutted for the lads but massively proud of our achievements with Afghanistan, he said.
Mooney walks away with a $10,000 bonus as part of the squad but does not know if he will get the chance to be involved in the World Cup.
"We'll get today out of the way and then talk to the people who make those decisions," he added.