LAURA DELANY held her nerve in a tension-packed final over in Abu Dhabi yesterday to help Ireland to a thrilling four-run victory over Zimbabwe and a place at the T20 World Cup in South Africa in February.
Thanks to a tight mini-spell by Arlene Kelly towards the death, skipper Delany had 15 runs to play with and she needed most of them because the Irish celebrations were kept on hold until her final delivery was struck for a single with a maximum required.
Ireland did just enough with the bat. Gaby Lewis, Amy Hunter and Delany all got starts at the top of the order but no-one could better Orla Prendergast’s 28 from 25 balls and it needed a spirited 26 not out from Rebecca Stokell to post a competitive 137-6.
Stokell, who plays for Ed Joyce’s club Merrion, would have delighted her coach with a 12-ball cameo that contained two sixes but the Girls in Green were probably 20 runs short of being comfortable, despite benefitting from three dropped catches and an horrendous missed run-out.
Player-of-the-match Jane Maguire rocked the Zimbabwe chase with two early wickets, and conceded only 18 runs in four overs, but the African side built a solid platform and, needing 39 from the final five overs, were probably favourites.
Crucially, Cara Murray then had skipper Mary-Anne Musonda stumped by Mary Waldron for 31 at the start of the 16th and with Kelly keeping things tight at the other end Delany was able to deliver a third must-win victory in a row.
Whatever happens in tomorrow’s qualifying final, the main goal of the trip has been achieved.