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Match Report
Richard Bullick

Ireland produced another noble effort but their dreams of qualifying for the second stage of successive World Cups are all but over following a 44-run defeat to the West Indies in Mohali. Phil Simmons' side now need to beat both South Africa and the Netherlands to have an outside chance of reaching the quarter-finals but at this stage it already appears a lost cause. There were high hopes when West Indies looked likely to post a relatively modest target with 15 overs remaining after being put into bat and again when the Irish reply reached the heights of 177 for three in the 38th over needing less than 100 more with a back-in-form Ed Joyce closing in on a century, Gary Wilson playing particularly well and the potentially productive combination of a powerplay and supreme striker Kevin O'Brien to come. But in contrast to how the opposition kicked on in the closing stages of their innings thanks to master-blaster Kieran Pollard's big hitting, Ireland's innings fell away - not helped by one controversial call by the umpires.

A devastating batting powerplay which had seen the West Indies plunder 55 runs in five overs undermined Ireland's excellent earlier efforts in restricting the opposition run-rate in this crucial group game. Big basher Pollard plundered 94 in 55 balls to leave the men in green needing a daunting 276 for the win which would have given their quarter-final qualification chances a huge boost. Ireland had hoped it would be a lot less when West Indies were 142 for three off 35 overs as opener Devon Smith closed in on a relatively low-quality first ODI century but it could have been even worse had man-of-the-match Pollard not eventually holed out off John Mooney's bowling in the penultimate over. Had he stayed, the Windies might still have posted 300 so devastating is his hitting. In terms of the final figures, they had plenty to spare though the margin flattered the former champions and Ireland were left wondering what might have been.

The men in green had of course chased many more (328) to win a game earlier in this tournament and nearly 300 to defeat today's opposition in a one-day game in 2004 but in what was virtually a must-win match you suspected that the 275 which the West Indies ended up with would prove to be enough, especially as it carried added psychological value thanks to the damage done by Pollard late on. Eclipsing England owed an awful lot to that one-off fairytale innings of 113 in 63 balls from Kevin O'Brien and the Stormont success was built on a rapid-fire first wicket partnership of over 100 as Ireland chased. Expecting anything approaching a repeat performance from Ireland's own huge hitter O'Brien was unrealistic and, not for the first time in this tournament, far from constructing a significant opening stand, Ireland lost an early wicket when Paul Stirling was caught off an inside edge. They began brightly but were becalmed against Windies skipper Darren Sammy - who remarkably started with three consecutive maidens - and Andre Russell, with the frustration bringing about the demise of the former's Irish counterpart William Porterfield.

Wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien made a brisk 25 out of a stand of 44 with Joyce which steadied the ship and then another county-contracted keeper, Gary Wilson of Surrey, justified his recall at the expense of Andrew White in helping put on 91 before his impressive partner perished for 84. When Joyce went for 84, the platform was laid for Ireland's own big-hitter Kevin O'Brien to get established and then cash in on the remaining powerplay but, perhaps not surprisingly, the man who so spectacularly destoyed England couldn't repeat his heroics and quickly fell for five. Wilson was playing the innings of his life and had just taken 14 from a Nikita Miller over but the required run-rate was 8.5 entering the final 10 overs and Ireland's lower-order was missing the dangerous Trent Johnston, who had failed a morning fitness test on the knee injured against India in Bangalore last Sunday. Wilson would need to go on towards a run-a-ball hundred, the fit-again Andre Botha and Alex Cusack contribute, and Mooney provide the heavy hitting in Johnston's absence.

That script seemed a tad fanciful and the tough task became well-nigh impossible when Wilson was deemed not to be playing a shot at a ball pitched outside off-stump in Sammy's final over even though the review he called for in challenging the umpire's lbw decision suggested he should have been reprieved. Wilson's devastating dismissal for 61 off 62 balls reduced Ireland to 199 for six in the 42nd over, Cusack was stumped off Sulieman Benn in the next and then Botha tamely run out as the greens grew desperate. Ironically Pollard did something similar to Ireland to what Kevin O'Brien had done to England last week and, here too, an incredible innings was also a match-winning one. Had he cleared the boundary for a sixth six off his 55th ball instead of holing out inside the rope, Pollard would have claimed second spot behind O'Brien in the list of fastest-ever World Cup centuries - his strike-rate was way superior to the previous record of Aussie Matthew Hayden's. Although he bowled a lot less impressively than he batted, going for 10 in his opening over, it was Pollard who - perhaps symbolically - took the steepling catch that got rid of O'Brien before he got going.

There were positives to take from the Ireland innings in Joyce and Wilson's batting and the bowlers didn't do a bad job in Johnston's injury-enforced absence in the first half of the day, though their work was made a little less stressful by the fact former captain Chris Gayle was missing from the opposition line-up due to an abdominal strain. All the seamers suffered during the batting powerplay but Rankin richly deserved to take his first wicket of the tournament and wasn't flattered by final figures of one for 35 from 10, while O'Brien twice picked up two wickets in an over to finish with four for 71 in nine on a day when Ireland's spinners bowled only five overs out of 50, compared to 25 against India. The pitch didn't really take turn, the fact the medium-pacers were keeping it tight helps explain Dockrell's delayed introduction and then came the disruptive powerplay. Bringing one of the young spinners back on during the mayhem late in the innings would have been a bold move but perhaps Porterfield will regret not throwing down the gauntlet to Pollard by backing Dockrell.

The very fact that there is discussion about particular turning points and the impact of individual decisions underlines how Ireland were once again worthy, competitive and far from out of their depth in this rarified environment. But this team is all about winning and as this was a game which was, realistically, being targeted for a vital victory in the last eight qualification quest the players will find it hard to take what was probably a terminally damaging defeat in the context of their World Cup chances. And in thinking what might have been, the irony of our own Eoin Morgan starring with 63 for England against Bangladesh today will not be lost on disappointed Irish fans never mind being bad for the sport. Reaching the last eight is now the longest of long shots for Ireland but Simmons' side will be gunning for South Africa in their 5th match in Group B, determined to take one more major scalp before bowing out of the tournament.

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