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Match Report
Ian Callender

Day 1 Paul Stirling's maiden international century and an opening partnership of 182 allowed Ireland to get their latest Intercontinental Cup defence off to a commanding start at sun-drenched Eglinton. For the second time in nine months, the Kenya bowlers were on the receiving end of an Ireland batting master class until a 37 year old hauled them back into the contest in the final session. Ireland took tea at 197 for one but rather than fill their boots against a tiring attack, Steve Tikolo, bowling his off spin off a few paces, finished with five wickets and the holders lost six for 126 in the remaining 46 overs. Trent Johnston and captain Kyle McCallan will resume on Day 2 with Regan West and Peter Connell to follow and, on a pitch which is already taking turn, anything close to 400 should still ensure the first innings points.

For the first half of the day, it looked as if Ireland's record total of 578 for four declared, against the Kenyans in Nairobi, in the penultimate match of their last successful I-Cup campaign would be in danger as Stirling and Jeremy Bray, playing his first four-day game since his century in the 2007 final against Canada, dispatched the bowling to all parts of the ground. As ever, Bray was particularly strong on the off side while Stirling, with a confidence belying his 18 years, continues to impress with each visit to the crease. The Carrickfergus batsman was the first to his 50 from exactly 100 balls, with eight fours and Bray followed two overs later. When they were just 20 runs short of Ireland's best opening stand in the competition, however, Nehemiah Odhiambo - he of the dreadlocks - found the edge of Bray's bat and it flew low to slip. He had faced 122 balls and hit 14 fours.

Kenya's problem in the first session, which did not get under way until 12.15pm because of rain, was that they did not force the batsmen to play often enough and both openers, showing great discipline, were content to wait for the bad ball. Stirling left more than most and it was 177 balls before he reached his personal landmark. A teenager sitting on 94, in sight of his first international century, might be expected to nudge a six singles to ensure he gets there. Not Stirling. With sweet timing and a disdain for anything short, he picked up Peter Ongondo and lofted him out of the ground at mid-wicket. The celebrations were as muted as he is off the field, just a handshake from his new partner, Alex Cusack and then a modest raise of the bat. Unfortunately, four balls later, it was all over, as Ongondo got one to nip back at Stirling and, too close to cut, he got the edge through to the keeper.

It was hardly the start of a collapse but it was the cue for Kenya to get back into the game. With Tikolo getting turn and spin twin Jimmy Kamande bowling a negative legside line from the other end, the runs dried up and Ireland resorted to more desperate measures, with fatal results. Andre Botha was caught at mid-wicket, Kevin O'Brien hit his second ball straight back to the bowler, Andrew White was caught by the keeper, via short leg! Gary Wilson was bowled and Alex Cusack, in the last over of the day, was caught at short leg for 63. He had scored over 200 runs since he was last dismissed in the competition and he is making the No 3 position his own in four-day cricket. Much like the Ireland team have made this tournament their own over the last four years and this was another very satisfactory start.

Day 2

Ireland take a lead of 165 into the third day of their Intercontinental Cup tie at Eglinton and despite a spirited fight back by Kenya, Kyle McCallan's side remain confident of the first innings points. Depending on the weather, achieving an outright victory might be more difficult. Ireland added 81 to their overnight 323 for seven with Regan West careering past his previous best Ireland score of 27. He was left high and dry six short of his half century by some crazy running from Peter Connell who ran himself out.

A disappointing second spell with the ball and some sloppy fielding completed an unhappy day for the opening bowler but on a pitch which has taken spin from day one, this game is always going to be about the slow bowlers. Steve Tikolo, the Kenya veteran, took the wicket of the Ireland captain yesterday morning to finish with career best figures of six for 80 and the three Irish slow bowlers have already taken four of the six wickets to fall.

The most crucial wicket however, could yet be that of the Kenya captain, Maurice Ouma and that was a run out. After 24 overs of toil for the bowlers, in which Ouma and his deputy, Jimmy Kamande, added 108, to rescue Kenya from the perils of 123 for five, Ouma answered the call and for a quick single to mid-wicket and was stranded by a direct hit by Alex Cusack.

At the time, it looked as if it was the only way Ireland would take a wicket and the stare that Kamande received as his captain walked from the wicket said it all. Wisely, he was in no hurry back to the pavilion and, worryingly for Ireland, he is still there to resume today, 65 not out. His new partner is no stranger to holding up the Irish either. Thomas Odoyo batted for more than three hours in their valiant attempt to save the game in Nairobi last October. McCallan bowled a marathon spell of 17 overs and West has already chalked up 25 for figures of two for 57. The fact that Trent Johnston, Ireland's most accurate and persevering pace man has bowled only seven overs says everything about this slow, low pitch. He did make the early breakthrough but it was the introduction of spin, after only 10 overs that rendered the top order Kenya batsmen almost strokeless and the wickets duly followed. First McCallan had Seren Waters caught at silly point, then Andrew White had Tikolo trapped leg before. After a wicketless first spell by West he returned to have David Obuya caught at slip by Trent Johnston, making up for the dropped chance by the same combination some 20 overs earlier. When the slow left armer then bowled Collins Obuya with his arm ball, it was 123 for five and Ireland were dreaming of their sixth innings victory in their last 13 I-Cup games. After rain interrupted play for a second time on the day, to end play 30 minutes early, they will be just grateful for an outright victory. First though four wickets for less than 165 runs is the target on day three to ensure the first innings points.

Day 3

Alex Cusack continued his love affair with the Intercontinental Cup yesterday to help Ireland keep control of its opening defence, against Kenya at Eglinton. Having aggregated an unbeaten 134 in last year's final against Namibia in Port Elizabeth, Cusack has already been at the crease for more than six hours here and resumes on Day 4 with 55 not out, to add his 63 in the first innings. Ireland closed the third day on 139 for four, with a lead of 212 and if the forecast rain does not materialise it could be another race against the clock for the holders to bowl out Kenya for a second time. There are due to be a minimum of 104 overs on the final day and a target of around 320 in 75 overs could be captain Kyle McCallan's target.

Cusack has formed a good liaison with Andrew White - they have already added 50 for the fifth wicket - although the run rate has never threatened three an over and it will not get any easier on a pitch which is getting slower and lower and taking an increasing amount of spin. Indeed Steve Tikolo, who took six wickets in the first innings with his off spin, shared the new ball in the second innings and bowled the first 22 overs from the Pavilion End. He dismissed Ireland's top scorers from the first innings, Jeremy Bray (for 15) and Paul Stirling (6), some 168 fewer than their combined tally on Friday, and when Andre Botha was slow in responding to Cusack's call and was run out the holders were 47 for three.

Kevin O'Brien enjoyed a life on 15 and survived a couple of fortunate edges as well before he was caught behind, flashing, for 21, but thanks to Cusack, dropped at leg slip on 30, and White, Ireland had regained the ascendancy by the close. In the morning it took them 34 overs and 92 runs to wrap up the Kenya innings with Regan West, who shared the second new ball with Trent Johnston, completing 38 overs in the innings and taking two of the four wickets to repeat his four-wicket haul in the first innings in Nairobi last October.

The most stubborn partnership proved to be the ninth between Thomas Odoyo, well used to keeping out Ireland, and Peter Ongondo who was undefeated for 71 minutes of mainly defence but he also hit three fours and a six in his 24. Trent Johnston broke the stand but he was helped by his direct hit on Odoyo's elbow. Two balls later the batsman mistimed a pull and Gary Wilson held an easy catch.

Day 4

In the end the Eglinton pitch was just too good and Ireland fell two wickets short of claiming outright victory in their opening Intercontinental Cup defence, against Kenya. Set 298 in what proved to be 70 overs, the east Africans finished on 245 for eight with Thomas Odoyo playing out the last over from Andrew White to earn them a draw. It left Ireland 11 points short of a maximum haul but they have a chance to not only close the gap on early leaders Scotland but overtake them with victory in Aberdeen when the teams meet on August 17.

"There's no panic at this stage," said National Coach Phil Simmons. "There are six games (for each team in the competition) and when we get four full days we usually win. Because of the rain interruptions here we just didn't have enough time and although the same thing could happen in Scotland, when we go away to Afghanistan and Canada hopefully we can get maximum points."

Early morning rain delayed the start of the final day until after lunch and although only 20 overs were lost, Ireland captain Kyle McCallan still had a balancing act to give his bowlers enough time to bowl Kenya out for a second time and yet keep the visitors interested in victory themselves. The Ireland captain almost got it over-perfect, declaring after scoring 85 in 13 overs. Andrew White remained unbeaten on 59 but it was a run-a-ball 38 by Gary Wilson which give Ireland those extra overs with the ball.

Trent Johnston, again, made the early breakthrough and when he had David Obuya trapped in front, Kenya were 33 for two when the spinners were introduced. Regan West and Kyle McCallan duly struck in successive overs to make it 82 for four and even one more wicket shortly afterwards would have maintained the Ireland momentum. However, on a pitch which, because of the heavy roller, had flattened out, batting was as easy as at any time in the match and Maurice Ouma and Collins Obuya were good enough to add 105 in 26 overs and blunt Ireland's winning ambitions.

The pair were still together at the start of the last hour but the introduction of Peter Connell proved an inspired choice by McCallan. The opening bowler had done little to justify a recall but he completed an impressive comeback over by having the Kenya captain leg before. The visitors were still contemplating victory themselves at this stage - they needed 111 off 16 overs - and two sixes by Obuya kept everyone guessing about the outcome until, on 84, McCallan breached his defence and the pendulum swung back to Ireland. McCallan conceded 13 off the remaining five balls of the over with a variety of long hops and called up Andrew White for the last five overs at that end. Two wickets ensured there would be no Kenya victory but it still wasn't good enough for Ireland.

Photographs
Day 4
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