Cricket: Williams fills his boots as Ireland lose grip on Intercontinental Cup
Even Trent Johnston couldn’t help his country yesterday.
The talismanic opening bowler drew a blank in the wickets column as Ireland conceded 500 for the first time in the Intercontinental Cup and surrendered their hold on the trophy.
When the Zimbabwe XI passed Ireland’s first innings total of 465 they left it mathematically impossible for the holders to reach this year’s final and the task for William Porterfield’s side on the last day was simple: try and avoid defeat.
It should be straightforward on a pitch as flat as the one they encountered in Dambulla back in January but Ireland lost that one, after being bowled out for 202 in their second innings.
Today, time was on their side with only 96 overs left in the match and the Zimbabweans with a first innings lead of only 41 after three days will be in no position to declare until at least lunchtime.
Ireland have still four wickets to take, which is one more than their weakened attack managed yesterday and the fact that Andrew White, with his non-turning off-breaks, bowled more than anyone only underlined Porterfield’s problems.
He is, officially, without Andre Botha in this match after his accident in Tuesday’s warm-up which resulted in two stitches in his bowling hand and Johnston went off in the final session with a recurrence of his knee problem and is another who will be kept in cotton wool ahead of Sunday’s first one-day international.
With two other members of their best bowling attack, Boyd Rankin and Alex Cusack left behind at home, recovering from injuries, it was hardly surprising that wickets were so hard to come by. They went into the day knowing it would be difficult — but not this hard.
It was 46 overs before John Mooney made the breakthrough, ending the fourth wicket stand at 237, but it proved a false dawn as Keith Dabwenga, happy to play second fiddle when Sean Williams was compiling 178 then dominated a fifth wicket stand of 104 to bring up his team’s second century, both of them much bigger than Ireland’s individual best of 102.
The other two wickets came in the space of seven balls by Kevin O’Brien when Zimbabwe were still eight runs behind, but that was to be Ireland’s last success of the day.
When the hosts took the lead, Ireland couldn’t get back to the sanctuary of the dressing room quickly enough.