IRELAND DON’T MAKE it easy for themselves but they managed to survive a major scare to keep their quest to qualify for the quarter-finals of this World Cup on track with a two-wicket victory over UAE in Brisbane.
Chasing 279 runs to win at the Gabba, match-winning half-centuries from Gary Wilson and Kevin O’Brien swung the game back in Ireland’s favour after a disciplined UAE bowling display had threatened to dent Ireland’s World Cup hopes.
In a game of see-sawing momentum, the sides exchanged blows right up until the final over before George Dockrell managed to get his side over the line with a lofted drive over mid-on and then a similar shot into the offside with just four balls to spare.
That it went down to the wire was down to UAE’s persistence. Just when it looked like O’Brien’s onslaught had taken the game away from them, the part-timers rallied to give the 5,249 fans inside the Gabba an anxious finish.
Having reached fifty and taken the sting out of UAE’s bite, O’Brien slapped one straight to cover when there was little need for the big shot before John Mooney was caught by fine-leg for 2 with Ireland still requiring 36.
Wilson was the cool head, however. Back-to-back boundaries in the 48th over reduced the task but the Surrey wicketkeeper could only guide a short ball from the impressive Mohammad Naveed to third man to give UAE another glimmer of hope.
But Ireland showed all their mettle and experience to eek their way over the line as Dockrell and Alex Cusack, recalled to the side for this match in the city of his birth, scrambled 10 runs off the final two overs to ensure Ireland followed up last week’s win against West Indies with another two points.
Phil Simmons’ side now sit third in Pool B with four points alongside India and West Indies.
Only two sides in ODI history had managed to chase a score of 279+ at the Gabba and Ireland’s start didn’t suggest they were going to become the third. Paul Stirling, the hero of Nelson, edged behind for just three and despite consolidating, William Porterfield and Ed Joyce became stuck as UAE sensed an upset.
Joyce eventually fell for a scrappy 37 but received a reprieve when a delivery from the pacy Naveed clipped the off-stump, lighting up the zing bails but, unbelievably, the bails didn’t dislodge.
He couldn’t capitalise, however, as Ireland slipped to 97-4 when Porterfield and Niall O’Brien fell in quick succession to off-spinner Mohammad Tauqir as the required rate rose to over nine an over.
But, Wilson and Andrew Balbirnie went about rebuilding as they rotated the strike to construct a partnership worth 74 to build the platform for O’Brien’s fireworks.
In an innings not to dissimilar to his heroics in Bangalore four years ago, O’Brien stood and delivered with pure disdain as he clubbed ten boundaries, including two sixes, to break the back of the UAE.
He and Wilson scored 72 off just six overs but the game’s defining moment came when O’Brien was on 24. The all-rounder skied Naveed into the deep but the substitute fielder failed to hold onto the chance at long-on and spilled the ball over the rope.
Neither he or Wilson could finish the job and despite the latter racing to 80 – his first international fifty for over a year – it was left to Dockrell to finally dispatch the UAE.
It should have been a whole lot more straightforward for Ireland in a game they were expected to win. After taking early wickets to reduce UAE to 131-6, Shaiman Anwar scored his country’s first World Cup century to propel his side to 278-9 as Ireland’s death bowling was found wanting again.
O’Brien, just like in Nelson, was particularly expensive as William Porterfield’s bowlers failed to execute their skills in the closing overs as Anwar and Naveed took full advantage.
Although he took two wickets, O’Brien leaked 61 runs from his seven overs but he made up for it with the bat.