Ireland became the first team to qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 2009 in England when it laboured to a four-wicket victory against Kenya in the first semi-final of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier at Stormont in Belfast, Ireland on Monday.
After taking the hardest possible road to the semi-final stage thanks to a last-gasp win over Bermuda on Sunday, Ireland bowled beautifully to knock the second-seeded African side over for 67 in 17.2 overs. But the home team's batsmen made heavy weather of the small target before achieving success with five balls to spare.
Ireland was cruising nicely at 41-2 in 11.3 overs before it lost three wickets in six balls to slump to 44-5 which soon became 49-6 in 15.4 overs. At that stage, Kevin O'Brien (17 not out) played a little gem of an innings to ensure the second-seeded team avoids an upset.
Ireland will now wait for the outcome of the second semi-final to know about its opponent in Tuesday's final while Kenya will face the other losing semi-finalist in the third and fourth-place play-off to be played today at 1630 (local time).
The finalists of the Belfast event are guaranteed a place in the 12-team ICC World Twenty20 2009 to be staged at Lord's, The Oval and Trent Bridge next year but the inclusion of the third-place team for next year's event is dependent on Zimbabwe Cricket's Board ratifying a decision taken by its officials during ICC Annual Conference week, to step back from the tournament.
It will be Ireland's first appearance in the ICC World Twenty20 after it missed the inaugural tournament in South Africa last year after finishing fifth in the ICC World Cricket League Division 1 in Nairobi in early 2007.
'I am delighted at our achievement. It's a great feeling to have qualified for next year's tournament,' said Ireland captain William Porterfield.
'I still remember the dressing room atmosphere after our third defeat (in the ICC WCL Div.1 in Nairobi) and we wanted to avoid that situation this time. Kenya is always a tough opponent but we played really well to win the semi-final.
'I think the conditions for batting are slightly difficult and even though we have depth in our batting, we have struggled to win our matches convincingly despite chasing small totals. But we are improving and I am sure we will arrive in England next year as a much improved side,' Porterfield said.
Porterfield, who plays for Gloucestershire in the county championships in the UK, said it would be a great honour if he leads his team against England in the opening match of the ICC World Twenty20 at Lord's. 'It would be a huge honour and a great privilege to lead Ireland at Lord's in the tournament opener against England.'
This dream will come true if Zimbabwe opts not to ratify its earlier decision to step back from the tournament and Ireland wins the final (in which case Ireland would be in Group B with England and Pakistan).
If Zimbabwe does confirm it won't play, Ireland can still play at Lord's if it loses the final. In that latter scenario, the top Associate will take Zimbabwe's place in Group A (with India and Bangladesh), the losing finalist will slip into Group B (with England and Pakistan) and the third place side takes a position in Group D (with South Africa and New Zealand).
Porterfield won an important toss and the bowlers justified his decision by bowling to a teasing line and length with controlled accuracy.
The accuracy of the Ireland bowler can be judged from the fact that four Kenya batsmen were clean bowled, openers Morris Ouma and Kennedy Otieno were smartly caught off leading edges while Nehemiah Odhiambo and Steve Tikolo were trapped in front of the wickets were playing across the line.
All-rounder Andre Botha led the Ireland bowlers charge and finished with figures of 3-20 while Alex Cusack, Kevin O'Brien and Peter Connell shared six wickets between them. Botha, who later chipped in with a valuable 22, was declared man of the match.