WHEN the Ireland team turned up at Malahide yesterday morning they had high hopes they would have a day off today, having completed a comprehensive Intercontinental Cup win against the Netherlands.

The maximum points victory may still happen but it will need a much improved bowling performance on the final day after the Dutch closed the first innings deficit to 102, having started the day 337 runs in arrears!
Ireland have already lost four wickets in the rush for quick runs in their second innings but with a lead of 269 they are surely in a position from which they will not lose the match – but that was never the objective; nothing less than 10 wickets today will suffice.

Boyd Rankin was the one bowler who could be excused any blame yesterday. The out-of-favour Warwickshire paceman, in his first game for Ireland since January and only his second I-Cup game since his return from England duty 12 months earlier, deservedly finished with a five-wicket haul.
It was only the second time he had achieved the feat for Ireland, in his 96th game, but he admitted afterwards it was hard work on a flat pitch.

“The bowlers stuck to their task but it was nice to get those wickets,” said Rankin. “I felt in pretty good rhythm, considering I hadn’t bowled with a red ball for about six weeks, and it seemed to get better the more I bowled.
“We knew the Dutch still had a couple of decent batters and we just had to keep them under pressure, but it is the sort of wicket that if you do get in you can score runs.”

The seventh wicket stand of 160 between Max O’Dowd and Logan van Beek proved that, as the Ireland bowlers toiled for 43 overs without a wicket either side off lunch. The first session was particularly painful for the bowlers, especially the spinners who sent down 12 overs and had aggregate figures of 0-71 with half of those overs from Jacob Mulder, Ireland’s lead spinner in preference to George Dockrell in this game, conceding 43 of them.
Both batmen comfortably passed their previous best scores for their country – O’Dowd improving from 36 to 105 with van Beek (previous best 64) dismissed for 76 from a disciplined 146-ball stay.
The Ireland fielding also fell well short of Test standard – the new benchmark for this side – wiith misfields conceding boundaries, an overthrow going for five and four dropped catches.

The first, in only the second over of the day, by Andrew Balbirnie at second slip did not cost anything as the same fielder made amends, a tougher chance from the same shot by Ben Cooper in Tim Murtagh’s next over.
But that was to be Ireland’s only success before lunch, with van Beek surviving a tough chance to Murtagh and O’Dowd, on 80, a much simpler one to Rankin at mid-on. Gary Wilson would also, later, miss Tim Visee down the leg side, before he had scored.

It needed Rankin, with the fourth ball of his first spell after lunch to end the record Dutch stand, finding the edge of O’Dowd’s bat and Balbirnie held on to a sharp catch, again at second slip.

At that stage, Netherlands still needed 19 to avoid the follow-on target and although Rankin struck again in his next over to remove van Beek, a comfortable catch to first slip this time, the ninth wicket pair breezed past their first objective with two fours in an over off Kevin O’Brien and even the last wicket stand added 23 before Rankin claimed his fifth wicket, a mistimed pull shot skied to the keeper.

Ed Joyce perished early, playing a one-day shot in the third over, but William Porterfield was more fortunate, first of all surviving a huge appeal for a catch in gully on 44 and immediately after bringing up his 50 a dolly to mid-wicket which was somehow spilled.

He resumes this morning needing just 11 runs for his fifth I-Cup century and although Andrew Balbirnie was dismissed for the first time in the match after scoring 255 runs – 13 short of Jeremy Bray’s Ireland record – and John Anderson and Gary Wilson lasted a total of nine balls, Kevin O’Brien, Simi Singh and Jacob Mulder can ensure Porterfield will be able to declare.