After two extra day's rest, following the short ending of the match against Namibia, Ireland came to this match against Kenya. The position was quite simple. If Ireland wanted to get into the final, which would now be against Namibia in South Africa, then they would have to take the full 20 points off Kenya. They would have to beat them and they would also have to get first-innings lead. Anything else would mean that it would be Kenya who would play Namibia in the final.
Ireland enjoyed dominance on the first day of their last Intercontinental Cup group game but have yet to earn a place in the final. The holders were put into bat and posted a total of 282-3, so appear to hold all the aces, especially with Andre Botha, the Irish player of the tournament, resuming this morning on 65 not out. But on a pitch full of runs it is not an invincible total.
The situation is complicated for Ireland captain William Porterfield. Not only does his side have to win the match but they cannot afford to lose on first innings. The declaration, if and when it comes, must be timed to perfection because Kenya will fancy themselves to overhaul any Ireland total on their Gymkhana ground. The hosts know the pitch so well and have a lethal weapon in the form of Steve Tikolo, who has scored a couple of double hundreds in this competition. They also have revenge on their minds since Ireland beat them in the 2005 Intercontinental Cup final.
Ireland have not lost a match in this competition since, and when Niall O'Brien scored his fifth century for his country and Alex Cusack's patience yielded 42 runs from 178 balls, it looked like they weren't going to lose this one. The worry is Ireland haven't scored quickly enough. They rarely threatened three runs an over - Kenya bowled two overs more than the required 96.
The day though belonged to O'Brien. Last Sunday, he faced three charges of indiscipline arising out of the two-day victory against Namibia. By Thursday, he had learnt that a combination of their hosts laxness and ICC sloppiness meant that the report was not dealt with in time and the Dubliner is free for the rest of the African tour, albeit on best behaviour. Certainly coach Phil Simmons had no complaints with him yesterday. He showed no effects of a trying week in an innings full of confidence and gloriously timed shots. He brought up his 50 in 91 balls with six fours and his 100 followed well before tea, from 173 deliveries with eight more boundaries. His only false stroke was his dismissal on 135 with 17 boundaries to his name.
After losing his opening partner and captain, Porterfield, inside six overs, it was a case of needs must for O'Brien because Cusack, retaining his place at number three, was given the anchor role. It was proving a successful combination until the Clontarf batsmen lost concentration the over before tea. Botha was next to bat. His first 50 was remarkable, including 11 fours and a five but he reached that particular landmark for the fifth time in his last eight innings in this competition. Encouragingly for Ireland, the last four times he has scored 50 he has gone on to notch 100s.
Report by Ian Callender for Daily Mail from Nairobi
Ireland are 17 wickets away from appearing in a third successive Intercontinental Cup final after a day of records at the Gymkhana ground in Nairobi.
The national team's highest-ever total has, barring a miraculous Kenyan counter-attack, assured them of first-innings bonus points and, unless rain intervenes, they have a minimum of 192 overs to force a win and join Namibia in a five-day final in South Africa at the end of the month.
When William Porterfield finally called his batsmen in, two overs into the final session of the second day, the scoreboard read 578-4 and, for the first time in any of Ireland's 681 matches, three batsmen had scored centuries in the same innings. Indeed, if the captain had gone on for another couple of overs, Andrew White might have made it four as he was 92 not out at the declaration. Instead it will be Niall O'Brien (135), Andre Botha (109) and Kevin O'Brien who really took Kenya to the cleaners with a rapid 171 not out, who will go into the record books. And all this after Kenya won the toss!
Having been dismissed for one, in the sixth over of the match, it was payback time for Porterfield as he allowed his heroic team-mates to pile on the agony, hour after hour, session after session. In all, the African hosts bowled 160 overs and were in the field for more than 10 hours. Hardly surprising then that they lost three wickets in 29 overs before the close. Their 62 runs, even at this stage, are almost immaterial. Worryingly for Ireland, rain has already interrupted Kenya's first-innings once, for half an hour, and three overs were lost to bad light at the end of the day. But Boyd Rankin, Peter Connell and, maybe most significantly of all, Kyle McCallan have already taken a wicket apiece.
Steve Tikolo, who scored 177 not out when the teams met in the 2005 final, is still there to resume this morning but Kenya lost that match and Ireland were still confident last night that two full days would be more than enough to finish the job. Resuming yesterday at 282-3, Phil Simmons' men had set their stall out to break every record in the book. They are used to batting only once in the competition - the two-day game against the Namibians last weekend was the first time in eight 4-Day games that they had needed a second knock - and despite the flat track and hot, but not unbearable conditions, that was their target again.
The first hour yielded only 57 runs but at four an over it was a big improvement on the first day and Botha, who had already used up three lives on Saturday, enjoyed another one on 98 when he was dropped in the slips. Next ball, with the help of another misfield, he said thanks very much and brought up his sixth ton for Ireland, just one behind the record of Jeremy Bray and Ivan Anderson. Botha was stumped shortly afterwards but that only allowed Kevin O'Brien to take centre stage.
The Railway Union batsmen loves playing in Kenya. His only previous century came here at the World Cricket League last year and this was just as impressive and even bigger. The big all-rounder warmed up with five fours and four sixes in his first 79 runs and then, patiently, took 17 singles and 2 to reach 98 from 169 balls. Then he broke free. O'Brien went to his hundred in the grand manner, with a six over long on and proceeded to hit seven more maximums plus two fours in the next 44 balls he faced. The tiring Kenyan's had no answer and with White the perfect foil - he hit 10 fours in his 141-ball innings - Ireland reached 500 for only the third time ever, before passing their previous best total of 531-5 (against UAE in Abu Dhabi last year) and the last ball before tea brought up Ireland's first-ever 200-run partnership for the fifth wicket. It was great to watch. Now it over to the bowlers. The holder's are still proudly defending their Intercontinental Cup crown.
Report by Ian Callender for the Daily Mail from Nairobi
The final day of the 28th and final Intercontinental Cup group match will, this evening, unearth the name of the second finalist. Everything is up for grabs at Nairobi's Gymkhana ground with Ireland needing eight wickets to progress and Kenya having to bat out the day to claim the draw that would set up an all-African final against Namibia.
The holders had a glimpse of the promised land yesterday when they dismissed Kenya for 186 to gain a huge first-innings lead of 392 but their hosts put up much sterner resistance second time around and Ireland managed only two further wickets in the 41 overs before the close.
Despite Kyle McCallan and Regan West bowling 67 of the days 98 overs, William Porterfield's team managed only four more than the required quota and, on the evidence of the final session, every extra over will be vital today. Trent Johnston was the only bowler to take wickets in the second innings and he should have had three in the space of five overs, save for the veteran overstepping. Niall O'Brien caught the edge but young opener Seren Waters, on 39 at the time, was reprieved by a no-ball call. Crucially, he was still there at the close with captain Steve Tikolo, the Kenyan Wall, his defiant companion.
An early wicket is likely to be vital today but with more good weather forecast, at least Ireland will not be able to blame the rain if they fail to complete another final passage and head to South Africa to fight for a third consecutive title.
Kenya lost nine wickets and scored 270 runs yesterday and they start the final day 246 runs behind with eight wickets to fall. That's how close it is and with no sign of the pitch deteriorating, the game, effectively a semi-final, is set to go to the wire. Ireland captain Porterfield has no shortage of bowling options available to him. Andrew White was the eighth bowler used in the match and Andre Botha did not bowl at all, but it looks as if West and McCallan will hold the key to an Ireland victory.
New Zealand-born West had bowled only two overs for Ireland before this game. Yesterday he was unchanged for 29 overs as Kenya slumped from their overnight 62-3 to 186 all out, the Civil Service North all-rounder finishing with 4-67 including the prize wicket of Tikolo, top scorer with 44. For a team that needed to bat for two days to get the draw they needed to reach the final, there was a lack of patience after night watchman Hiren Varaiya had kept out 78 balls for 15 runs. McCallan found the edge just before lunch and in the same over Kennedy Obuya ended all the good work with a drive straight back into the Irish bowler's hands.
West then took two wickets in three balls, the first to a sharp catch at short leg, under the helmet, by Alex Cusack, and he completed his first-innings haul by tempting Kenyan danger man Thomas Odoyo to loft a catch straight to mid-on. The last man, Peter Ongondo perished to a skier and at the interval - Porterfield had no hesitation in enforcing the follow-on - Ireland could not have been happier.
The first hint that the second innings would be rather less straightforward came in a flourish by the Kenyan openers, who hit Peter Connell out of the attack with 32 from four overs - he had conceded just 13 in 12 overs in the first innings - and Waters showed no respect to Warwickshire professional Boyd Rankin as he thumped him for 16 in one over. Obuya, though, despite being promoted to opener, showed he had not learned his lesson from the first-innings by falling into the long leg trap and Rankin safely held the catch. Alex Obanda was plumb LBW for just four but, with West tiring, the hosts third-wicket stand has already added 70 runs much too comfortably, and it promises to be a thrilling fight to the finish. The holders' title is firmly on the line.
Report by Ian Callender for the Daily Mail from Nairobi
It was never easy, it was always tense but, with 25 minutes to spare, Ireland had deservedly reached their third successive Intercontinental Corp final. They will play Namibia in a five-day decider in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, starting on October 30. The victory margin of an innings and 65 runs may sound emphatic - and it was - but it was a race against the clock for William Porterfield's side on the final day that they started needing eight wickets, in a minimum of 96 overs, to win the match. A draw would have been enough for Kenya to send the Irish home.
Three wickets fell in the first 15 minutes, putting the holders firmly in the driving seat, but it was to be another two and a quarter hours before Ireland made their next breakthrough. It proved to be the only wicket of a frustrating middle session and, at tea, Ireland still required four wickets. As Porterfield said after the match: "we knew the game was still there to be won. There was no need to panic and if we bowled 32 quality overs, put the pressure on them, put the ball in the right areas, we knew we could win it."
His ace in the pack was Andre Botha. Remarkably, Ireland's leading all-rounder had not bowled a ball in two days but, with less than 15 minutes until the final hour of the match began, and with Kenya still just seven wickets down, Botha finally got the call. With his fifth ball, he trapped Hiren Varaiya, the night watchman who had kept out 78 balls in the first innings, leg before and three overs later he took Ireland's ninth wicket, bowling Lameck Onyango after he offered no stroke.
Suddenly, Ireland were back in the driving seat and Regan West, in his 74th over of the match, won another LBW verdict to end the resistance of the last man Peter Ongondo. It was no more than West - seven wickets in his third international - and his teammates deserved. The best team do not always win when the opposition is playing for a draw but such was Ireland's dominance over the four days that justice was done.
This bowling attack continues to prove itself a class apart in second-tier cricket. Only the most optimistic give them a chance of defending 114 against Namibia in Windhoek but the bowlers pulled off a remarkable 8 run win. To take 20 wickets in two days, on this pitch, after the batsmen had hit 578 for four was an even greater effort.
Trent Johnston, who had captured the first two wickets on Monday evening, doubled his tally in the first 12 overs of the day, stooping low to hold a superb return catch to dismiss Kenya captain, Steve Tikolo, then removing 18-year-old Surrey opener Siren Waters for 75. With West also getting in on the act, Ireland had high hopes of an early finish but Rakeb Patel and Thomas Odoyo held out. The latter had scored 61 from 36 balls to win last year's World Cricket League match between the teams and for almost 4 hours it looked as if he would defy Ireland again, but West's perseverance was rewarded and Botha took the catch in the slips.
Boyd Rankin was the other wicket-taker, breaking the sixth wicket stand of 76, but Peter Connell and Kyle McCallan failed to create a chance. Never before has Ireland's most capped player bowled so many overs, 37, in an innings without taking a wicket. Never before, too, could Ireland have won such a match without his help. But they have proved yet again that this is an Ireland team with a capital T and no one has yet worked out how to beat them in a first-class match.
The final can't come quickly enough, and Niall O'Brien would not after all be suspended, having incurred only a fine and a reprimand from Cricket Ireland rather than an ICC ban, for foul language in the match in Windhoek.