Day 1 Report
Ireland's Intercontinental Cup crown is hanging by a thread after 81 overs of mayhem when 25 wickets fell. At the end of the first of the scheduled four-day game Ireland are, in effect, 27-5 in their second innings and know that unless they can pull off an unlikely victory against their confident Namibian hosts, the final group game next week end against Kenya in Nairobi will be meaningless.
The result is by no means a foregone conclusion! How could it be with the bowlers so dominant. Andrew White, the first innings top scorer - although that's not saying much, with 19 out of a total of 69 - and Trent Johnston are still in the middle and Kyle McCallan and Regan West have still to come.
At one stage on this most remarkable day of cricket, Ireland even threatened to get the first innings lead which would have ensured their cup hopes were still alive. Namibia were 37-7 in reply as one stage and Andrew White dropped a straightforward catch which would still have left the last two wickets to scramble another two runs. However, reprieved, the Namibian tail end enjoyed themselves - none more so than last man Kola Burger who scored 16 from four balls and was out to the fifth with the lead an ominous 50.
When Niall O'Brien played arguably the worst shot of the day - and he had quite a few rivals - pulling his third ball of the second innings straight to mid-wicket, it looked as if we could be heading for a result in one day. Alex Cusack, too high at number three, was held half an hour later for an unconvincing four. However, then Ireland enjoyed their best period of the day. William Porterfield and Andre Botha, at the 13th time of asking, managed to take a partnership past 20 - and when Botha called for a quick single he didn't make, 57-2 and became 66-5 as Kevin O'Brien and the captain followed in quick succession.
Again, with a possible 50 minutes left in the day - Namibia could have claimed the extra half-hour - a one day finish was a distinct possibility, but Johnston not only saw the day to its conclusion but hit two perfectly-timed boundaries to give hope that all is not lost today.
So why did so many wickets fall? It certainly wasn't the pitch. Porterfield lost the toss but he was going to bat first anyway. Yes, the bowlers bowled well and early breakthroughs do, invariably, cause panic. The ball was moving around but there were too many "one-day" type shots when instead patience was required, bringing back memories of the batting at Clontarf against Scotland in 2004, Ireland's last defeat in the Intercontinental Cup. Their 12-match unbeaten run in this competition has never been so threatened. There was a symmetry about the three scores at the end of each session. At lunch, Ireland were 64-8, with only White, who hit the solitary six of the day, keeping his head above the parapet, but Ireland's response was heroic and Namibia took tea at the precarious 69-8. Both first innings lasted 28.3 overs. Ireland were also grateful for 10 no-balls, the third highest score in their first innings. However, Boyd Rankin, trying too hard at times, tried to repay the Namibians with five "four-day" wides in his spell. Meanwhile, Peter Connell, with four wickets, is still on course for a second 10-wicket haul in the competition, although the last time Ireland played here - to win in the Intercontinental final in 2005 - the spinners took a total of seven wickets in the second innings.
Ireland must hope that history can repeat itself today, but first the last five batsmen must get enough runs to give them a chance.
Day 2 Report
This Ireland team never know when they're beaten. With their 12-match unbeaten record in the Intercontinental Cup on the line, they dismissed Namibia, set just 115 to win, for 106, Boyd Rankin finishing with his best figures for Ireland, 5-39. Ireland now has the task of taking maximum points from Kenya in Nairobi next weekend to qualify for their third successive final, and the holders are still favourites to retain their crown in Potchefstroom at the end of the month.
Bowled out for 69 shortly after lunch on Friday - the lowest total in the four-year, 70-match history of the competition - Ireland had no right to escape with a victory. Not only did they do that, they nearly achieved maximum points, reducing the Namibians to 37-7 in their first innings. The last three wickets gave the hosts what should have been a vital 50-run the and it looked down and out for William Porterfield's side when they closed a remarkable first day on 77-5.
Ireland were all out for 164 with no one able to better Andre Botha's 29, incredibly the highest individual innings. Namibia were left with one over to face before lunch, and not even that was without drama as Deon Kotze hit Peter Connell through the steps at catchable height. Connell, bowling with Warwickshire's Rankin for the first time in a two-innings game, needed early wickets. The pair did not fail. Rankin made the breakthrough in his third over, having AJ Burger caught at first slip off a rising delivery, and by the end of the next over Connell had bowled Soral Burger and strangled Kotze down the leg side for Niall O'Brien to take a tumbling catch. When Rankin made it 31-4, Ireland were on top - but even then it would not be straightforward.
Gerrie Snyman survived being dropped at cover point to thump 28 off a dozen balls, including successive sixes off Rankin, and it looked as if Alex Cusack had dropped the Intercontinental Cup. But Snyman refused to rein himself in, despite Namibia having 261 overs to get the runs. Ireland did not mind and when Snyman pulled yet again, Porterfield, leading by example, took the catch at cover.
Namibia lost three wickets for eight runs and left the last pair of Louis Klasinga and Kola Burger to add 16 for the last wicket - the number of runs the number 11 scored in his first innings four balls - to win the match. They had added another seven when Burger cut Rankin to third man and Kyle McCallan, on his 201st appearance for Ireland, made no mistake. The tour was still alive.
Report by Ian Callender for Daily Mail from Windhoek
The Ireland players were given a day off in Windhoek yesterday. It should have been the penultimate day of their Intercontinental Cup match against Namibia but the remarkable happenings at the Wanderers Club on Friday and Saturday careered Ireland one step closer to another final, inside five sessions. Skipper William Porterfield was offering no excuses for the below par batting displays but knows they will have to perform in Nairobi from next Saturday when they must beat Kenya in the final group game in the 2007-2008 tournament.
Ireland escaped with a scarcely believable 8 runs victory after being dismissed for 69 in their first innings, the lowest total in the 70-match history of the Intercontinental Cup. "We can't go lower than 69 and will improve in Kenya" said Porterfield. "We had poor net facilities here but we are not using that as an excuse. We didn't apply ourselves and didn't show enough patience. We had a couple of partnerships - 37 for the third wicket between myself and Andre Botha until Boatsie was run out - and then 47, the best of the match, for the eighth wicket between Kyle and Regan West. If either of those had gone on, we would have made it a lot easier for ourselves."
"Still, we got what we did and we knew we had to defend 114 to get the 14 points to keep us in with a chance of reaching the final and it is all credit to the lads that we won. We knew at the start of the match we had to take 20 wickets and two of our front line bowlers, McCallan and Alex Cusack, didn't even bowl. That shows the strength we have in this team."
The fact that they have never lost a four-day game obviously helps and the force must be with the squad as they begin thinking about Kenya. "We need at least to tie the first innings and then target a win" added the captain. "In a four-day game you have to play positive cricket and we feel we have the players to do that." It almost proved their downfall against Namibia but their hosts played into Ireland's hands with kamikaze cricket of their own. Left with 2½ days to score the 115 runs which would have ensured they did not meet the holders in the final at the end of the month, they tried to win it in 2½ hour's.
Boyd Rankin and man-of-the-match Peter Connell finished with five and three wickets as Namibia were reduced to 64-6 in 13 overs. Only then did they start to play "proper cricket" and although a seventh wicket stand of 27 raised the alarm bells in the Ireland camp, Porterfield brought back Rankin and, with his second ball, he made the vital breakthrough. Trent Johnston may be the oldest player in the squad, at the age of 33, but he was charging in at the other end and took two more wickets in eight balls to leave the South West Africans on 99-9. Seven nervous runs and 21 balls later it was all over and Ireland's cup hat-trick was still alive. The batting may not have fired but Ireland proved again that they are the team to beat in Associate cricket.