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Porterfield salutes rivals as Ireland hit the summit

 

By Ian Callender in Harare

It was a lot closer than expected - or envisaged after an hour's play - but Ireland secured two more valuable points and moved into top place in Group A after a second win at the World Cup qualifying tournament.

But captain William Porterfield, whose 11th one-day international century was the backbone of the winning reply, was quick to praise the herculean efforts of Papua New Guinea, who took Ireland to the last over before Gary Wilson hit the first ball to the extra cover boundary to complete a four-wicket victory.

"We played them in Townsville a couple of years ago and knew how disciplined they were, how they stick to their plans, how they keep going and they showed that in the field," said Porterfield.

"There was some unbelievable fielding out there from them and if they hadn't done that the game would have been over five overs earlier."

PNG also had a batsman who upstaged Porterfield and deservedly won man of the match. Tony Ura's previous best ODI score was 61 but the opener batted for all but three balls of the Pacific islanders' innings for a chanceless 151.

His dominance was such that the next best score was 25 from No.9 Chad Soper - and it was in the later stages as the pitch, predictably, flattened out that the Ireland bowlers lost their way.

They had taken full advantage of Porterfield winning the 9am toss and at the first drinks break - when 21 overs had been bowled - they had reduced PNG to 55 for five. By the end of the 33rd over, the run-rate had accelerated, but Ireland had nabbed another two wickets and were still very comfortable with the opposition on 117 for seven.

But with Ura finding the boundary at regular intervals - he hit two sixes in an over off Kevin O'Brien and another off Boyd Rankin - PNG scored 115 from the last 15 overs to set Ireland what appeared a tricky enough victory target.

But in a case of anything Ura can do, the Ireland batsmen should be able to do, the chase was all very straightforward for 43 overs, with the captain in control and Ireland needing just 24 from the last seven overs with six wickets left.

But, two balls later, Porterfield drove in the air and the cover fielder took a splendid diving catch to his left. In the next over, Kevin O'Brien had his stumps uprooted and Ireland required 20 with just four wickets left.

George Dockrell has been in excellent form with the bat on the trip but, now, Ireland's No.8 showed some nerves. At one stage he ran back to his own end when there was a simple two out to the cover boundary.

But the singles continued to come and a four through mid-on by Dockrell left Ireland with just three to win from the last over.

Ireland had made one change from the team that stormed past Netherlands in their opener on Sunday and what an inspired choice it was. Out went Barry McCarthy and in came Andy McBrine as the second specialist spinner and the North West Warriors skipper was Ireland's most successful bowler - beaten for economy only by Tim Murtagh - and finished with 3-38, his best ODI figures.

"It was a horses for courses decision," confirmed Porterfield. "And that's the stage we're at. We've lads sitting on the sidelines and it was a tough call on Baz, who has done very well in his last 10 ODIs. It was a tactical decision, but it was the right one. Andy performed very well."

For the second successive game, Ireland enjoyed a century partnership with Ed Joyce hitting 53 of the 108-run third-wicket stand as the two class batsmen who had failed to reach a half century on this trip both came good when it mattered.

On his own marathon innings, Porterfield said: "I felt terrible in the last warm-up game against Scotland but I had a look at the video and it was easy to correct what I was doing. I felt good against the Dutch and then today and it feels good to contribute to the win."

Now it's bring on the West Indies, their next match on Saturday.

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