Ireland no longer top of the tree
Ian Callender (Sunday Times)
IRELAND are no longer top of the tree in the Associate world of Twenty20 cricket. They surrendered their crown when they lost their semi-final to the Netherlands in Malahide with a performance which summed up a disappointing tournament.
The co-hosts of the World Twenty20 qualifiers finished top of their group, despite losing back to back games in the tournament for the first time because, incredibly, four other results went their way over the last two days of the group stages.
But the batting, which had passed 130 only once in their previous seven matches, flopped again in a crazy finale, the last six wickets falling in 18 balls for just 16 runs bowled out for 128 with one ball unsued. The Dutch were nine runs behind Ireland after 16 overs but George Dockrell's final over went for 16 and although Kevin O'Brien took his third wicket in the next over, Peter Borren eased his side home with 11 off the next five balls for a five wicket win.
The Dutch will meet Scotland in this afternoon's final while Ireland are condemned to a third-place play-off against Hong Kong in the early match. Afghanistan beat Oman, the other two qualifiers for the first stage of the finals in India next March, in yesterday's fifth place play-off.
Ireland surprised many by leaving out Niall O'Brien, who was passed fit but left out of the starting line-up - because they didn't want to disturb the top six - and they were then handicapped by the loss of Paul Stirling who failed to take the field for the second innings with a calf strain, immediately depriving William Porterfield of four overs of spin; in the previous game Stirling had figures of three for 16.
Netherlands captain Peter Borren won the toss and it was no surprise that he chose to bowl first, after all in the last game between the teams, they had scored 193 in less than 14 overs to knock Ireland out of last year's World Twenty20. Interestingly, after the coin landed heads, he didn't say he would ‘bowl', he said he would ‘chase'!
Keeping wickets in hand, the chase was always comfortable for the Netherlands and although Craig Young and Alex Cusack both struck in the first three overs, a third wicket stand of 57 between Ben Cooper and Michael Swart put them back on course.
Kevin O'Brien's introduction ended the partnership and when he claimed the big wicket of Cooper, the second highest run scorer in the tournament, for 43, caught on the cover boundary, Ireland thought they were back in it. Borren, unlike the Ireland middle-lower order, did not panic and his unbeaten 36 off 24 balls was the match-winning innings.
The man of the match was Mudassar Bukhari, for removing both Ireland openers in his first three overs and then, returning for the 19 th over with Ireland on 115 for six, he dismissed Stuart Poynter and Stuart Thompson as Ireland's hopes of a big finish evaporated. Would the experience of O'Brien have helped in those hectic few overs? Porterfield thought not.
To be fair to the captain, Andrew Balbirnie (31 off 31 balls), Gary Wilson (20 off 25) and Kevin O'Brien (33 off 18, including successive sixes off Pieter Seelaar) did their job in the ‘untouchable' top six but the recurring theme is that they got out without going on; only Porterfield, twice, and Stirling reached 50 in the eight games and neither made it to 60. This time, Balbirnie skied one to the keeper, Wilson came down the pitch and missed and O'Brien pulled Paul van Meekeren's last ball to deep square leg.
Watching the action was ECB chairman Giles Clarke, who many in Ireland blame for the reduction of the ICC World Cup to 10 teams. For now, the Ireland players will just be grateful it is a 16-team World Twenty20.
In the first semi-final, Scotland proved much too strong for Hong Kong, easily chasing down their victory target of 117 in just 12.2 overs.
Matthew Cross scored 39 from just 15 balls with five fours and two sixes and Kyle Coetzer 33 off 19 with five fours and a six. Their second wicket stand of 52 came from just 24 balls to kill the contest, the win set up by three wickets each for Ali Evans, Safyaan Sharif and man of the match Rob Taylor who also took two catches.