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Dublin: 15 °C Saturday 20 July, 2019

Ireland hold their nerve in another nail-biter to boost chances of reaching quarter-finals

Alex Cusack was the hero as he took two wickets in the final over.

Image: ICC/Twitter

IRELAND’S HOPE OF qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Cricket World Cup remain well and truly alive after Phil Simmons’ side held their nerve to edge past Zimbabwe by 5 runs in Hobart.

In what turned out to be another dramatic conclusion, the Africans required just 7 runs to win off the final over in pursuit of Ireland’s 331-8 but Alex Cusack, recalled for this game, showed nerves of steel to help his side over the line by the finest of margins.

The game’s talking, and indeed turning, point came in the 47th over of Zimbabwe’s run-chase. Sean Williams, on 96, lofted Kevin O’Brien towards the square-leg boundary where John Mooney just about stayed inside the rope to hold the catch.

Replays suggested part of Mooney’s left foot had marginally touched the boundary cushion but the television umpire didn’t have enough conclusive evidence to overturn the decision.

Williams had to go but Zimbabwe weren’t quite finished. Tawanda Mupariwa, the number ten batsman, plundered 18 off the penultimate over to swing the pendulum back in his sides’ favour.

Mupariwa struck O’Brien for consecutive fours through the offside and then clubbed a six over square-leg to reduce the equation and put Zimbabwe back as favourites.

But this Irish side don’t know when they’re beaten and Cusack showed all his experience to ensure Ireland remain in the hunt for the quarter-finals.

Alex Cusack celebrates with his team after getting the wicket of Rohan Mustafa Source: PHOTOSPORT/Tertius Pickard/INPHO

Two more points moves them back up to fourth in Pool B and one more win from their remaining two games, against India and Pakistan, would be enough to progress to the knock-out stages.

It is the second win over a Full Member nation have recorded in this World Cup after beating West Indies in their opening game against West Indies in Nelson.

It was very nearly taken out of their hands by two destructive innings from Zimbabwe’s stand-in captain, Brendan Taylor, and Williams. The former dismantled the Irish attack as he scored 121 to tee-up a compelling finale.

His dismissal, in the 37th over, gave Ireland a way back into the game. Cusack was the stand-out Irish bowler with 4/32 but the man-of-the-match award went to Ed Joyce as he recorded his third One-Day International century and first in a World Cup.

After being inserted to bat by Taylor, Ireland moved through the gears as the innings progressed with Joyce becoming the fourth Irish World Cup centurion while Andrew Balbirnie scored his second consecutive fifty.

The pair put on 138 for the 3rd wicket but Balbirnie fell agonisingly short of his first ODI century as he was run-out for 97 in the final over trying to scramble back for a second run.

Ireland’s innings fell away towards the back-end as five wickets, including Balbirnie’s, were lost in as many overs but the platform had been laid to post the team’s highest ever score in One-Day cricket.

Balbirnie was promoted up the order to number four and proved to be the perfect foil to Joyce after Ireland stuttered through the opening overs.

Paul Stirling started with intent but slashed Tinashe Panyangara straight to point for 10 and although captain William Porterfield ensured no more wickets fell in the powerplay, the scoring rate dwindled. But Joyce followed up his match-winning 84 in the opening match against West Indies with another peerless knock which contained 12 boundaries, including three maximums.

Cricket WCup South Africa Ireland Balbirnie ensured Ireland posted a big total in Hobart with another mature innings Source: Rob Griffith

He did ride his luck, however. As Ireland became bogged down, with Porterfield struggling to rotate the strike, Joyce looked for the big-shot to release the shackles but skied a slower-ball from Tawanda Mupariwa into the legside.

After some initial hesitation, the bowler charged after it but after doing much of the hard work, was unable to hold onto a relatively straightforward chance. Joyce was on 34 at the time – he went onto score 112.

Porterfield’s departure, for 29 in the 21st over, changed the tone of the innings as Balbirnie oozed confidence from the moment he struck Sean Williams through cover for a glorious boundary first ball.

Joyce and Balbirnie dovetailed brilliantly as they pounced on anything loose from the Zimbabwean bowlers to put Ireland into a position of supremacy.

Joyce was particularly clinical with anything just short of a length and sent two towering sixes into the grass banks of the Bellerive Oval on his way to three figures.

His dismissal during the batting powerplay didn’t deter Balbirnie, however, as he assumed the role of pacemaker with an array of perfectly executed and crisply timed shots all around the wicket.

He reached fifty with a slog sweep for six while Kevin O’Brien, Gary Wilson and John Mooney all played brief, yet invaluable, cameos at the other end to ensure Ireland’s head of steam didn’t peter out.

Regular wickets, however, starved Balbirnie of the strike and with three figures within sight was unable to make his ground, despite a desperate dive, to get over the line.

This time, unlike against South Africa last week, his efforts weren’t in vain. Ireland’s next game is against defending champions India in Hamilton on Tuesday.

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Ryan Bailey

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