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Match Report
Ian Callender

The final of the 2007/2008 Intercontinental Cup was scheduled to take place in St Georges, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Because it is a final it was scheduled for 5 days, the first time two teams in the Intercontinental Cup had a fixture scheduled for 5 days. If the match was a draw, then Namibia, as the leader of the tables after the round robin stage, would be declared the winner.

Ireland selected the same team for the final as had played in the two wins over Namibia and Kenya. This meant that three members of the party had not played at all in the entire trip to Africa. These were Philip Eaglestone; John Mooney and Andrew Poynter.

Day 1

Three wickets in two overs late in the day put Ireland in a strong position in the Intercontinental Cup final in Port Elizabeth but a couple of Namibian Burgers denied the holders a perfect opening day. Louis Burger, the captain, finished 72 not out and his brother, Kola, batting at number 11, smashed five fours from 11 balls to finish 22 not out and take the South West Africans to 241-9

It was not the first time on this trip that the weakest of the Namibia batting line-up had dispatched the Ireland bowlers to all parts of the ground. Ireland, fielding the same team that won the dramatic two-day contest in Namibia, will be desperate to take the last wicket this morning but, having lost the toss, William Porterfield can be satisfied with his side's work so far. Not for nothing is Port Elizabeth known as South Africa's Windy City and with a temperate breeze blowing across the ground, it was never easy for the bowlers or fielders. Yet there was not one bowling extra in the 90 overs and only Kevin O'Brien spilled a catch.

After taking lunch at 73-2, four more wickets in the afternoon session reduced Namibia to 119-6 and Ireland, back in action after an enforced 12-day break, were looking good to be batting by the end of the day. Captain Burger and Bjorn Kotze led the fightback with a seventh wicket stand of 91 which was ended by Rankin and with Connell claiming his third and fourth wickets in the next over, Ireland were back in the comfort zone. Connell may still be finding his feet in the one-day international arena but he loves this competition. He has already taken an impressive 24 wickets in five matches so far.

Rankin had made the breakthrough in his seventh over, a bouncer to hot for Louis van der Westhuizen to handle and Trent Johnston struck with his third ball to bowl opening partner AJ Burger. Andre Botha, who had led the Ireland team out on his 100th appearance for his adopted country, took only one wicket, in 20 overs of characteristically accurate medium pace, but it was a valuable one of Gerry Snyman who tried so hard to rein himself in from his normal hard-hitting, attacking style. He restricted himself to just two boundaries in 30 deliveries but he could not resist going for a booming drive and Connell held the skier at mid-off.

Alex Cusack took a wicket in his first over but there was no reward for the spinners, Regan West and Kyle McCallan, on a pitch which will have no problems lasting five days. Whether the batsmen are good enough to stay around for the full Test match duration, will decide this must-win game for Ireland.

Day 2. Report by Emmet Riordan for the Irish Times

A defiant innings of 95 not out from Alex Cusack and some late wickets saw Ireland keep alive hopes of a third straight Intercontinental Cup title after a day of swinging fortunes in their final encounter against Namibia in Port Elizabeth yesterday. The African side finished the day 69 runs ahead but lost two early wickets in their second innings with Ireland opening bowler Peter Connell picking up two LBW decisions in the space of five balls to remove Louis van der Westhuizen and night-watchmen Louis Klasinga as they closed on 14 for 2.

Connell had earlier wrapped up Namibia's first innings on 250 when he bowled Kola Burger for 29 to claim his second five-wicket haul in just his fifth match in the competition. Connell was to be trumped by the performance of Gerry Snyman, who swung the ball fiercely on the St Georges Park wicket to demolish Ireland's top-order. After trapping Niall O'Brien LBW for a duck in his second over, Snyman would go on to take three wickets in four balls as skipper William Porterfield, Andre Botha and Kevin O'Brien were all clean-bowled in the 11th over to reduce Ireland to 27-4. 10 runs were added to the total before Andrew White became Snyman's fifth victim and the possibility of following on looked distinctly possible.

Cooler heads were called for with Cusack and Trent Johnston supplying them as they rebuilt Ireland's innings with a sixth-wicket stand of 141, including 101 runs in the session between lunch and tea. Johnson would eventually fall for a patient 58 from 129 balls, setting off a collapse as Sorel Burger helped himself to 4 wickets as Ireland were bowled out for 195. It left Cusack five short of a deserved second century for Ireland after he had faced 230 deliveries and hit 15 boundaries.

The late Namibian wickets certainly buoyed the mood in the Irish dressing room and Cusack remains confident that victory is still within their grasp. "If we can get two more wickets early on tomorrow we'll be back on top I think. We've got to just keep bowling tidily and see what happens", said the Clontarf player. "I'd never write us off because we have come back before, particularly against Namibia. With a lot of the guys missing out in the first innings they'll be looking to put that right in the second innings so hopefully we'll be able to pull it off."

Day 3

Ireland are still kings of the Associates. It will take a few more overs at St Georges Park this morning to prove that but, now, it is surely just a matter of time. There may be two full days left in the first five-day Intercontinental Cup final against Namibia, but Ireland need 67 more runs with nine wickets standing to retain the cup for the second successive time.

Set a target of 201 in the fourth innings, Niall O'Brien and William Porterfield raced off at a sensational seven runs an over for the first eight overs and although the spin off Deon Kotze slowed the victory charge, and won the wicket of the Ireland captain, this talented Ireland side will not be denied. For eight sessions this final had meandered along, the run rate barely touching two-and-a-half an over, but then, as if to show they had just been toying with their increasingly confident opponents, the Ireland openers decided to show them who was boss.

Porterfield's first six scoring strokes, inside five overs, sped to the boundary and O'Brien then joined in with his second scoring stroke a six, pulled to mid-wicket, as the rather feeble medium-pace bowling was dispatched to all parts of the impressive Port Elizabeth Test venue. Even Sorel Burger, who conceded just 23 runs in 19 overs in the first innings, when Ireland were bowled out for 195, could not tame the openers this time and beleaguered Namibia's skipper, Louis Burger had made five bowling changes by as early as the 10th over. At this stage it looked as if the Ireland squad were planning a two-day holiday before they return home on Tuesday, but Kotze finally found the right length, if not time, and Porterfield, attempting one big shot too many, perished as Bjorn Kotze, the bowler's brother, held the catch at deep mid-on.

That only brought Ireland's first innings hero to the middle. Alex Cusack was stranded five short of a second first-class century when he ran out of partners on Friday but the way he cracked his second ball to the third-man boundary showed he was still full of confidence. At the other end, O'Brien had much to prove after a tour when he reached double figures only twice in six innings. One of them was 135, against Kenya, in a game which earned Ireland their place in this final, and he is perfectly positioned to not only finish the five-week trip in style but also to win the cup.

The Northamptonshire professional resumes this morning on 77 not out, having hit 11 boundaries, and with Cusack still looking like an a movable object, the team that has not lost in this competition for four years should be celebrating a victory by lunchtime today.

Namibia had led by 69 runs at the start of the third day, with eight second innings wickets in hand. That soon became seven with Boyd Rankin, in his second over, having Sorel Burger brilliantly caught at second slip. The catcher, inevitably, was Porterfield who has set the standard in the field for his teammates and, generally, they have matched it. Alex Cusack's catch to dismiss Craig Williams at point was straightforward but after that the bowlers needed no sort of help as Namibia's hopes of building an unassailable advantage were relentlessly blown away.

Captain Louis Burger, following his undefeated 74 in his side's first innings 250, thought he could bat all day but, having hit a solitary single from 31 deliveries, he was trapped in front by Rankin. Next over, the giant Warwickshire paceman ended AJ Burger's 128 balls resistance and six wickets had fallen for 85, the lead by now a precarious 140. Gerry Snyman threatened to take the game away from Ireland with five boundaries, including two sixes, in a whirlwind innings of 31 but Andre Botha proved his nemesis for the third time in four innings to find the edge and ease any Ireland worries that may have been brewing.

Peter Connell had been wicketless on the day but, such is his form in this competition, that was never likely to continue and his seventh wicket of the game, his 28th in just five matches, quickly followed by Rankin's fourth of the innings, ended the innings on the stroke of tea.

With the extra half-hour available to finish the match on the day, Ireland had to score at four-and-a-half runs an over to get an extra day off but, despite the runaway start, the captain was more than happy with their progress. "We are not counting our chickens but we did a lot of work in the third session to put ourselves in a very good position. We are off to a good start. Hopefully we can go tomorrow and do the job," Porterfield said. "It's a pretty good deck and we are confident of chasing 200. Obviously, we didn't do it the first time when we got off to a terrible start at 37-5. They have a good opening attack so wasn't going to be easy but we went out and played positively and is going alright. If we go out in the morning and play well for the first half hour or 40 minutes we'll be in a strong position and, hopefully, come tomorrow lunchtime, will have the cup in our hands."

Day 4. Report by David Townsend for the Irish Independent.

Niall O'Brien scored an unbeaten century, but it was Alex Cusack who took the man-of-the-match award as Ireland romped to a nine wicket victory over Namibia yesterday to win the Intercontinental Cup for a third successive time. Cusack had dragged Ireland's first innings back from the abyss with a gritty 95 not out, so it was fitting that it fell into the Clontarf all-rounder hit the winning boundary at St Georges Park.

The second wicket pair had added an unbeaten 133 when the target was reached with O'Brien making a busy 119 not out from 165 balls, including 15 fours and two sixes. Cusack's fifth boundary took him to 39 not out. After picking up his first Intercontinental Cup winners trophy, Cusack said "as it turned out we could probably have chased a few more to win, but I think that was down to the great start we got from Niall and William (Porterfield). The Namibian bowlers didn't swing the ball as much in the second innings but it was still hard going against spinners and I was just trying to survive and let Nobby get the runs at the other end."

Looking back to a dark passage of play on Friday when Ireland slipped to 37-5 in reply to Namibia's first innings of 250, Cusack said "there was a moment when I thought I was gone too. I edged an outswinger and it went low to third slip, but luckily the chance went down. I told myself I had to make the most of getting a second chance, and I did. Although, to be fair, I always say that to myself when I'm dropped and it doesn't always work out!" Cusack paid tribute to the experience of Trent Johnston, his former team-mate at Clontarf, who helped him add 141 for the sixth wicket to get Ireland back in the game.

After conceding a first-innings lead of 55, big Boyd Rankin played a major role in skittling the Africans for 145, second time around, the Warwickshire seam bowler claiming 4-39. Peter Connell backed him up with three LBW decisions and Andre Botha was rewarded with two wickets for a tight spell. Only when big hitting Gerry Snyman lofted consecutive sixes over mid-wicket off Regan West did Namibia threaten to break free.

A victory target of 201 that had looked daunting at the outset - Ireland had not scored that many against Namibia in three previous efforts - was quickly cut down to size by positive batting. A spirited opening stand of 68 set the tone and after Porterfield had skied a catch to long on, O'Brien and Cusack got the job done with the minimum of concern for the dressing room.

Ireland are now unbeaten since 2004 in the multi-day format of the game and will add this title to victories over Kenya in 2005 and Canada in 2007.