IRELAND achieved one goal but not the other as they finished in third place at the T20 World Cup qualifiers after a 27 runs victory over Namibia in the Dubai International Stadium.
Skipper Gary Wilson’s ultimate target was to head to next year’s finals in Australia as the winners of the qualifying competition but while a top six finish was the minimum goal, a side still in transition resulted in a lack of consistency and a finishing position which reflected their record of five wins and three defeats.
Whether another 12 months, which includes a minimum of 22 T20 internationals against fellow Full Members, will be enough to make Ireland competitive on the world stage must still be in doubt, but at least they have a global competition to prepare for and the nucleus of a squad which is on the up.
This time last year, Ireland were 18th in the T20 world rankings, they are now 14th with UAE and Nepal in their sights – neither of whom will be at the World Cup.
It was the bowlers who claimed the victory for Ireland yesterday, dismissing Namibia for 108 in the 19th over, an impressive comeback after the batting had suffered another mid-order wobble, slumping from 77 for three at halfway to 120 for eight at the end of the 18th over.
Mark Adair, surprisingly held back until the 17th over, hit successive sixes and although he was out two balls later and No 11 Boyd Rankin failed to survive the first ball of the last over, the two maximums would prove crucial in the final result.
Ireland had made two changes from the team that lost Friday’s semi-final to Netherlands with Shane Getkate replacing Stuart Thompson and, with three left handers in the Namibia top order, Simi Singh was given his first game of the tournament, in preference to George Dockrell.
That was one selection which Ireland got right because Singh took a wicket in his first over and finished with three for 25 and the man of the match award.
As Wilson pointed out at his post-match Press conference last night, this is the first qualifying competition in the UAE which Ireland have not won but the days of Trent Johnston, Alex Cusack and John Mooney are long gone.
Now the experience is provided by the top three of Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien and Andrew Balbirnie (top scorer yesterday with 46), strike bowler Boyd Rankin and Wilson, with question marks over the captain’s long-term future after a tournament which yielded only 33 runs in four innings and three of those coincided with Ireland defeats.
He remains the outstanding wicket-keeper but Lorcan Tucker, the current number two, has scored only 29 runs in his last four innings and he did not bat in his only appearance at the Qualifiers.
The youngsters in for the long haul are led by Mark Adair (23) who had figures of two for nine from 3.2 overs against Namibia to finish the tournament with 12 wickets at an average of 12.5 and an economy rate of less than five, also Ireland’s best. Combined with his big-hitting prowess, he is sure to be a genuine all-rounder across all formats in the years ahead.
The T20 specialist is Gareth Delany (22) who got past 20 only once in his seven innings but the 89 not out, from 49 balls against Oman, highlighted his potential and he is a ready-made replacement at the top of the order if any of the Big Three is missing. Wilson is also happy to throw him the new ball and in three of the four games, including yesterday, his leg spin took a wicket.
David Delany (21) injured his knee in the fifth match but his raw pace guarantees him an extended run in the team and Harry Tector (19), who made his Ireland debut in the same match just six weeks ago, is another with time on his side and should definitely be in Australia as a middle-order batsman who can hit boundaries and rotate the strike.
Unless Ben Cooper, Max O’Dowd or Ryan ten Doeschate bettered Gareth Delany’s high score in last night’s final between Netherlands and Papua New Guinea, Paul Stirling finished as the leading runs scorer. Unfortunately he was an oasis of consistency in Ireland’s T20 qualifying campaign. Two positives which came out of the Qualifiers and shows the improvement in Ireland's batting in T20 cricket - they faced the fewest dot balls and were the second fastest scorers.