Ireland too strong for Zimbabwe
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
IT has already been suggested that if Ireland beat both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, the two Full Members closest to them in the rankings, then a result against either Australia or West Indies in the World Twenty20 proper will be a bonus.
Well, the first leg of the warm-up double was achieved in impressive style at the Moors Sports Club yesterday, albeit against a Zimbabwe side which had arrived in Sri Lanka only 36 hours earlier.
Their lack of acclimatisation was evident against an Ireland side which was playing its third match in five days after more than a week getting used to the heat and searing humidity of Colombo. Even the well travelled and experienced Ed Joyce described it as the hottest day in which he has ever played cricket.
Still, to post 180 for five in 20 overs and then restrict Zimbabwe to 127 for eight – they were 83 for eight – continued their match by match improvement, the third successive victory never in doubt.
All the batsmen bar Gary Wilson scored at a strike rate in excess of 100 on the compact ground where the Ireland innings lasted 95 minutes as most of the six sixes went over the perimeter wall and the umpires even granted a drinks break, normally unheard of in a T20 innings.
Niall O'Brien's 62 was the biggest and brother Kevin's the quickest, 30 off 15 with two trademark sixes as the hero of Ireland's last World Cup campaign continues to show an encouraging return to form.
Zimbabwe were on the back foot from the first ball of their innings which Boyd Rankin unerringly pitched full and on the stumps before crashing into Vusi Sibanda's pads. However, opening partner Hamilton Mazakadza and Craig Ervine, formerly of Lisburn, got them to 74 for two in the ninth over with George Dockrell, in particular, under the cosh.
Ireland's leading slow bowler had been hit for 24 from his first 10 balls, including three fours and a six, and when his 11th ball, a long hop, was heading to the long-on, it seemed as if he was going to concede another maximum.
But Stuart Thompson, on as a substitute fielder, managed to hang on, keep his feet inside the boundary and Ireland never looked back. Ten balls later Zimbabwe were 77 for seven and Alex Cusack, who instantly found an almost unplayable length, took three for six in three overs and Dockrell's last 14 balls cost just four runs and he also claimed three wickets.
Ed Joyce dropped a simple catch on the boundary to end the ninth wicket stand but the fielding was also up a notch on the first two games and everyone in the camp is happy there is still room for improvement, rather than peaking too early.
For Rankin it remains a work in progress as he tries to put new bowling coach Craig McDermott's instructions into practice.
"The first over is pretty crucial to set the tone for the rest of the match (Ireland scored 17 in theirs yesterday) and I've been concentrating on bowling slightly fuller. I was happy with the way I started but I'd still like that fuller ball more often because I think it's going to be crucial in the first six (powerplay) overs to take a few wickets to put the opposition under pressure," said Rankin, who if Ireland exit after the group stages may have just three more games in an Ireland shirt
"It's a bit of a strange one for me, my last tournament. I'm enjoying it but have always loved playing for Ireland and hopefully I can go out on a high."