Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
If Ireland could have hand-picked the opposition and venue to get their World Twenty20 qualifying campaign back on track yesterday, the United States in Abu Dhabi would have been their first choice.
The Americans are only in the competition, along with the hosts, UAE, to make up the numbers thanks to special invites by ICC, and Ireland proved their aberration against Afghanistan on Tuesday was just that with an emphatic 78 runs victory, propelling them into second place in the Group A table.
Indeed with Scotland still pointless after defeat to the Afghans yesterday, Ireland are so far ahead on run-rate they can lose by around 42 runs to the Scots in the final group match back in Dubai Sports City today and still reach the Super Fours.
The Sheik Zayed Stadium has also been good to Ireland down the years - they have won every match there - and that record was never in danger once William Porterfield, Niall O'Brien and Alex Cusack had put on 172 in 17 overs.
Three overs later, Ireland had passed 200 for the first time in a T20 match and Peter Connell and Trent Johnston then rammed home their dominance with five wickets in the first four overs at a cost of just 11 runs to leave only the margin of victory in doubt.
Cusack's presence in the top three batsmen was because of the decision to drop Paul Stirling, even though the big-hitting 19 year old was second top scorer against Afghanistan.
National Coach Phil Simmons' reasoning was he wanted to bring in the experience of Andrew White against the Americans who might have been troubled against spin. That might explain White's recall - although the only two batsmen he faced had little problem against the slow bowling - but Stirling is the easy batsman to drop.
Simmons still believes Kevin O'Brien is just one innings away from a big one but an average of 11 in his last 25 innings would suggest he has had more than his fair share of chances. He was the only batsmen to fail again yesterday, holing out to long-on for three - and White even took his place in the bowling, completing his four overs at a cost of 23.
As usual Ireland started in a hurry. The 50 coming up in the fifth over and Porterfield had 45 to his name when he got a top edge to the keeper in only the ninth over with the total on 83. His departure was the cue for Niall O'Brien to take over and although he was dropped off a sitter on 63 - it was good to see Ireland are not the only team who can drop catches - he had already passed Andre Botha's previous best T20 score for Ireland.
The magic three figures were to elude him, however, dismissed off the last ball of the 17th over for 84 off 50 balls with 10 fours and two sixes. Cusack did his job at No 3 with 46 from just 30 with two sixes and Trent Johnston and Gary Wilson had the best strikes rates of the lot (171 and 250) in their rush to the finish.
The American batting may not have the technique of the Afghans, for example, but the opening bowling burst was impressive by any standard. Connell got the reward he was denied by terrible fielding yesterday with a four-wicket haul - Ireland's best bowling figures in a T20 international - and Johnston picked up his usual two to leave their opponents in disarray at 25 for six.
Ireland's only disappointment of the day was being unable to break another seventh wicket stand - it was 99 when time ran out.