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Match Report
Richard Bullick

A stunning century by the explosive Paul Stirling made light of a daunting target as Ireland ended their World Cup campaign with a clinical chase of 307 to beat the Netherlands at Calcutta's Eden Gardens by six wickets with more than two overs to spare. Captain William Porterfield and the consistent Niall O'Brien contributed half-centuries, the latter seeing the team home to a second victory of the competition to go with the earlier upset of England engineered by his brother Kevin.

Although the men in green wouldn't have been happy to be taken for over 300 by another associate nation ranked below themselves, they had been hampered by losing star spinner George Dockrell to a shoulder injury in the field and it must be remembered that the Dutch had shown their capabilities by posting 292 against England at the start of the tournament with their star player, Ryan ten Doeschate of Essex, contributing a century on both occasions. And having to chase such a big score allowed Ireland to show their maturity and character - while encouraging a previously run-shy Stirling to really go for it and show the world what a force he can be even at the tender age of 20.

At the interval we had wondered whether this team could mentally get themselves up for such a big chase at the end of a tiring tournament spent mixing it with the big boys and dreaming of further glories, but Ireland are a professional outfit in name now as well as attitude and brilliant batting ensured that they breezed through what was a very tough task on paper, further enhancing their record of dominance over the Dutch in recent years in the process. Ultimately, like some of the established sides against Ireland earlier in the tournament, Porterfield's favourites made their experience and character count to win a game which was very much in the balance and a fixture that Holland had been targeting as their "cup final'.

Young Stirling hit his third century for Ireland - his first in World Cup cricket - off only 70 balls having dominated a superb partnership of 177 for the first wicket in exactly 27 overs with satisfied skipper Porterfield - precisely what was needed as the favourites set off in pursuit of over 300 for a victory which would be academic in terms of qualification for the quarter-finals with both teams already out of the reckoning, but nevertheless important in its own right.

Holland haven't beaten Ireland since early 2007, ironically just before the men in green took the last World Cup by storm - their only success to date in official ODIs between these countries. Eden Gardens has seen somewhat higher-profile contests than this dead rubber between the group's two associate nations, but as Trent Johnston had pointed out before battle commenced, there was still plenty at stake in this Calcutta clash. Ireland went into this game needing victory to validate their campaign and end on a high, underlining their belief that they are clearly and consistently the best of the associate nations and a class above the tournament's other minnows.

Yet you suspected it would be easier for the Dutch to get up for this one mentally and, as they recovered from a shaky start to top 300 thanks to the efforts of ten Doeschate, captain Peter Borren and the brave Wesley Barresi, who returned after retiring hurt - he was struck on the head by a return throw - to ignite the innings, living up to their tag of favourites looked like an increasingly tall order for an Ireland team unchanged from Tuesday's defeat at the hands of South Africa at the same ground. But the superb partnership for the first wicket laid the perfect platform and the Irish impressively finished the job in a way which will really satisfy coach Phil Simmons.

Stirling's star first flickered onto the radar at this level coming into the 2009 World T20 when he showed he could hit good bowlers and although he had limited opportunities in the actual tournament two summers ago, the then teenager caught the eye when given a chance in the final fixture against Pakistan. Since then he has flourished for Ireland, most memorably slamming 177 off 134 balls against Canada in Toronto having notched his first century in green against Kenya.

The hope was that he could catch fire on the biggest stage at this tournament but in the first five matches the youngster had failed to really get going with the exception of a quick-fire 32 in the ultimately successful chase of 300-plus against England. Here too, Ireland were needing more than a run-a-ball throughout their innings in pursuit of the Dutch total and on the basis that it couldn't come down to something sensational from Kevin O'Brien - who came in at the end to put the icing on the cake by striking a couple of sixes in finishing the job off - for a second time in the competition, there was a real need for Stirling to come to the party.

Up until now it had taken a combination of his effective off-break bowling - which has been something of a bonus for Porterfield in this tournament - and enormous potential to save his place in the team from coming under pressure but the hope was that, against bowling of a little less quality, Stirling could come good and put the Dutch to the sword. A player who really goes for his shots from the off needs a little luck at times and the first indication it might be Paul's day came when he swung ferociously at his first ball from Mudassar Bukhari and top-edged over third man for six!

After Porterfield played out a maiden against off-spinner Adeel Raja, who was called upon to open the bowling at the other end, Stirling then hit two boundaries in the second over either side of Porterfield being dropped off a top edge by Raja at third man and the other two deliveries he faced which yielded no runs off the bat brought a total of five leg byes! The skipper got going himself with a boundary in Raja's next over followed by two off Bukhari and at one stage had faced 24 balls to Stirling's six. Through the entire period of the powerplays Porterfield dominated strike but the partnership was working well and having breaks between shots perhaps saved the impetuous youngster's adrenalin from pumping too much.

Stirling hit Raja for three very varied boundaries to take Ireland to 47 without loss off six overs and both batsmen helped themselves as 10 came off the opening over of first change bowler Bernard Loots. But his second disappeared for 19 thanks to Stirling starting the over with 14 off three balls and Porterfield finishing it with a boundary. Ireland had 81 on the board off the first 10 overs and although ten Doeschate checked the rate in harness with Pieter Seelaar as the Dutch delayed the bowling powerplay, the base had been built. Those two went for only 11 in their first five overs between them but Stirling had reached his 50 inside 11 overs - off 25 balls, the second fastest of the tournament behind West Indian Kieron Pollard's match-turning effort against Ireland. Even Kevin O'Brien had taken 30 balls for his first fifty in the England encounter!

Until hit for four by Stirling, ten Doeschate had given away only two runs from his first 17 balls but the breakthrough didn't come and the runs began flowing again when Borren belatedly took the powerplay at the start of the 19th over. That over only went for seven but when Barresi dropped Porterfield and both that ball and the next off Borren reached the boundary, the Dutch captain must have started to feel a lot less confident than at the interval. Another chance came in the next over - Ireland were 132-0 off twenty - but this time ten Doeschate couldn't claim a difficult return catch above his head. Even ten Doeschate took tap from Stirling, who reeled off a hat-trick of boundaries in the 23rd over, the middle one of which raised Ireland's 150 as the final bowling powerplay over went for 14. At the mid-point of the innings, although Tom Cooper had just bowled a tight opening over of off-breaks that yielded only two runs, the score was 168 for none.

Although he finally lost his captain to the last ball of the 27th over - Atse Buurman's catch at the wicket as Porterfield on 68 tried to cut a ball which bounced more than he had expected against Cooper finally ending the record stand - Stirling progressed to his first World Cup century off the very next delivery. On 99, he got Seelaar away to mid-wicket for two but to his horror was gone next ball, when heaving an awful ball to the fielder in the deep at cow corner. His 101 included the two maximums and 14 other boundaries.

The start had been more than Ireland could have hoped for both in terms of the weight of runs and rate of scoring by the openers but, with two new batsmen now at the wicket and no team ever able to relax chasing over 300, Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien - two extremely capable players - were faced with a rebuilding job if not quite the task of winning the match all over again.

The Ireland wicket-keeper was off the mark quickly with a boundary but Cooper was keeping it particularly tight - only 10 came off his first four overs - and Seelaar also managed a maiden before two exquisite boundaries by Joyce broke the shackles again in the 32nd over with Ireland's 200 coming up in the next, some four overs quicker than Holland had reached the same milestone in the morning session. There were 92 needed off the final 15 overs but Joyce nicked Cooper to the keeper at the start of the 39th with 74 still required. He made 28 off 33 balls but it another frustrating failure to go on to a big score by Ireland's best batsman.

Gary Wilson, in contrast, has had an excellent tournament after a slow start when he was out cheaply against England in between not playing in Ireland's first and third fixtures. His half-century against the West Indies was followed by a decent knock in the South African game and with O'Brien going well at the other end there was no need for Ireland to panic even with the required rate nearly seven entering the final 10 overs. Cooper had conceded a mere 14 runs in his first six overs but now went for as many in three balls as Wilson hit successive sixes and then a four in what was a big over in every sense. His second six brought up Ireland's 250 and put the pressure back on opponents who had failed to defend nearly 300 against England a few games ago.

O'Brien hit two boundaries in the 43rd over to keep Ireland on course and although the next over brought only three runs, the powerplay was taken with 34 required from six overs. Wilson hit ten Doeschate's first ball for four but then sent one up in the air and the Dutch keeper just about hung on to dismiss him for 27 off 26 balls. However with Kevin O'Brien joining his brother the men in green were still firm favourites and in the end they won with plenty to spare. The brothers were happy to take only two off Seelaar in the 46th over and Niall's boundary from the final delivery of the next - bowled by ten Doeschate - kept the required rate under a run-a-ball with three overs remaining.

In fact it took only four more balls to finish it with the big-hitting Kevin blasting two trademark sixes either side of the brothers trading singles and Ireland had reached their tough target with 14 deliveries to spare and only four wickets down. Victory was expected of Ireland in this match and many may have hoped for a fairly straightforward one as the Dutch innings faltered first thing this morning after Porterfield put them in to bat. The Netherlands staged a remarkable recovery but will return home having been brutally reminded that Ireland remain the undisputed kings of the associate nations.

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Richard Bullick's report after the first innings

Weary Ireland will have to lift themselves for one last enormous effort to score 307 and avoid a deeply disappointing and damaging defeat against group outsiders Holland at Eden Gardens after a chastening morning in Calcutta for Phil Simmons' side. Young spin star George Dockrell dislocated his shoulder and the Dutch bounced back from the loss of three early wickets to set Ireland a daunting target if the men in green are to avoid being beaten by weaker opponents in their final fixture of the 2011 World Cup.

Four run-outs from the final four balls off the innings represented a farcical finish to the Holland innings but by then the Dutch were in 300-plus dreamland thanks to a second World Cup century by Ryan ten Doeschate and a real captain's knock from Peter Borren, and for the most part it had been Ireland who were somewhat shambolic on occasions, not least big Boyd Rankin who went for 74 in nine overs on a pitch offering him pace and bounce - and he bowled three no-balls as well as three wides. The Netherlands will have gone to lunch confident of a rare victory over their European rivals and a first win of the tournament against opponents who at times understandably looked like they had little left to give after heroic battles with the big boys.

Over the past few weeks, Ireland have poured so much physical and emotional energy into chasing the dream of quarter-final qualification only to see their hopes dashed after a few near misses whereas Holland, while disappointed that they couldn't defend nearly 300 for a famous victory of their own over England in their first fixture, have been ticking over of late and would always have regarded this final group game against fellow associates as their cup final and best bet for avoiding a whitewash. Holland haven't beaten Ireland since early 2007, ironically just before the men in green took the last World Cup by storm - their only success to date in ODIs between these countries.

Eden Gardens has seen somewhat higher-profile contests than this dead rubber between the group's two associate nations, neither of whom were still in contention for quarter-final qualification, but as Trent Johnston had pointed out before battle commenced there was still plenty at stake in this Calcutta clash. Ireland went into this game needing victory to validate their tournament and end on a high, underlining their belief that they are clearly and consistently the best of the associate nations and a class above the tournament's other minnows. Yet you suspected, in spite of Ireland being professional in name now as well as approach, that it would be easier for the Dutch to really get up for this one having more to gain and less to lose.

Ireland's intention going into this game was to show that they can consistently do to a lower-ranked side what the bigger boys have generally been able to do to them and a wicket in Johnston's opening over meant Holland had suffered an early loss, just like has happened frequently for the men in green in this tournament against the stronger sides.

As always, Rankin had got things underway with the ball for Ireland and the Dutch had seven runs on the board at the end of an eventful first over which began with a regulation guide to third man for a single to get Eric Scwarczynski off the mark. But South African-born Wesley Barresi might have departed immediately when he edged high to second slip and Kevin O'Brien tipped the ball over the bar for two runs and hit the striker on the helmet with his return for good measure. Rankin then struck the batsman with the third delivery, drifted down leg-side with the fourth which went to the boundary for four byes, but had a big appeal for caught behind to the final ball of the over which was turned down by English umpire Ian Gould.

For all the drama, the Dutch had got to the end of the over intact with a healthy seven runs to their name but Ireland soon struck a double blow with wickets in each of the next two overs as, firstly, the magnificent Johnston - probably playing his last World Cup match for Ireland - struck with his third ball to send back Scwarczynski. Bowling from wide of the crease the former Irish captain got a well pitched up delivery to move away a little and the opener nicked it to Niall O'Brien behind the stumps. Both openers actually left the field at the fall of the wicket, with Barresi retiring hurt for treatment thus bringing Holland's best player, ten Doeschate of Essex, to the middle earlier than they would have liked along with promising Aussie-born batsman Tom Cooper. The former had scored a superb century against England in the tournament opener but, after Cooper got a single second ball, the Dutch dangerman was lucky not to depart for a golden duck when beaten all ends up by the final delivery of Johnston's over.

Rankin got in on the act in the third over when he had Cooper caught by Irish captain William Porterfield just behind square on the offside straight after another delivery drifting towards the leg side had been impressively put away through mid-wicket for four. Slightly surprised by the bounce next ball as Rankin responded to that indignity and not getting into a great position to keep the ball down, Cooper perished for five to reduced the Netherlands to 12 for two midway through the third over.

Although it took a typically sharp stop by Gary Wilson to prevent Rankin being punished again on the legside he hurried ten Doeschate with the final ball of the over and, after a particularly testing Johnston maiden to follow, the orangemen would hardly have expected to have 53 on the board without further loss by the end of the tenth. Excited by the bounce in the wicket, Rankin dealt mainly in short stuff in his third over until new batsman Alexei Kervezee helped him over the slips for four and ten Doeschate struck two boundaries off Johnston, first flicking him over mid-wicket off middle and then hammering another full ball through the covers off the front foot.

A Rankin half-volley was contemptuously put through the covers for four by ten Doeschate but Johnston was unlucky to concede a boundary when he found Kervezee's outside edge at the start of another probing over. John Mooney, who has slightly surprisingly emerged as Ireland's regular third seamer in this tournament, replaced Rankin for the ninth over but having had Porterfield to thank for a superb save at point to his first ball the medium-pacer was subsequently despatched for two fine fours by ten Doeschate. The star turn added another boundary in the next over but, apart from that ball being full and wide, Johnston continued to command the batsman's respect.

Ireland took the bowling powerplay and a wicket with its first ball when Kervezee half-heartedly hit Mooney straight at the imposing presence of Kevin O'Brien at short extra cover and the fielder made no mistake. Barresi returned to the crease but looked like a man still suffering from a headache as he was immediately beaten twice in two balls by the bowler. However he somewhat surprisingly pulled the returning Rankin - who had taken over from Johnston at the opposite end to his opening spell - high over mid-wicket for six in the next over, a shot which suggested his reflexes were working well again, and then nicked Mooney for four as the Dutch reached 71 for three off 13 overs, a very healthy rate of scoring at least. Teenage Dockrell went for five in his opening over, including another Barresi boundary, and he helped himself to a further four off Mooney - as the field finally went back with the Netherlands nicely placed on 82-3 at drinks. Barresi, now on 28 off 30 balls, had overtaken ten Doeschate having scored 26 of the last 28 runs off the bat and had the better strike-rate of the two.

Beautiful bowling by the talented Dockrell prompted the introduction of his spin twin Paul Stirling and he also began steadily but Barresi really had the bit between his teeth and wasn't going to be tied down. He swept Dockrell dismissively for four and then swung Stirling over mid-wicket for a maximum to bring up the Dutch 100 in the grand manner early in the 19th over and the 50 partnership soon followed as Holland's recovery continued. The tide had turned to the extent that it was now Ireland's turn to be in the wars as Dockrell dislocated his shoulder diving to field off his own bowling and Alex Cusack - preferred to Andrew White in an unchanged team still missing Andre Botha - had to complete the 20th over which ended with the score a handy 105-3.

Mooney took up the attack to let Stirling change ends and although ten Doeschate this time found the boundary as the healthy run-rate of five was maintained, the off-spinner struck at the other end to send back Barresi after an impressive - especially in light of his headache - innings which had brought 44 in 49 balls. He reviewed an lbw decision after being hit on the pads trying to turn the ball to leg but there was no reprieve as replays showed it would clearly have hit the stumps. However it had been a very valuable stand of 60 in less than 12 overs.

Rankin replaced Mooney but bowled an extremely expensive over which went for 15 runs including three boundaries - one was off the edge - to new batsman Peter Borren and, having promoted himself up the order, the Dutch captain continued the assault by taking six from the first two balls of Stirling's next to race to 22 off 14. The Netherlands had 136 on the board by the mid-point of the innings and ten Doeschate brought up his half-century with a single off the first ball from Kevin O'Brien, Ireland's seventh bowler if you include Cusack completing the injured Dockrell's over.

Given ten Doeschate's destructive hitting potential allied to his wider batting pedigree and bearing in mind that that Dutch had posted nearly 300 against England last month, Ireland's best bet of avoiding a daunting chase was to bowl their opponents out though that aspiration was hardly helped by Dockrell's injury-enforced absence and Rankin's profligacy. The 150 came up off the first ball of the 29th over, fittingly courtesy of yet another boundary - this time to ten Doeschate off O'Brien. On the rule of thumb that you double the 30-over score, Holland were on for a big one having already reached 162 though the fact four wickets were down meant the contest was interestingly poised.

Another two pretty productive overs for the batting team prompted Porterfield to bring back Johnston following the drinks break but even he couldn't curtail the Dutch, going for five in his comeback over. Cusack came on, anxious to atone for a surprisingly poor tournament with the ball but there was no immediate dividend with four singles coming from his first over. Even the ball change couldn't bring the breakthrough for Johnston though he did beat Borren twice before being grateful to sub fielder White for denying ten Doeschate a boundary off the final ball. Cusack's next over went for 10 and Rankin replaced Johnston with Ireland increasingly desperate for a breakthrough but Holland's 200 came up in that 37th over with a single off a free hit for a no-ball.

O'Brien was hit for three boundaries in the 38th over, two by ten Doeschate and the third by Borren to raise his individual half-century and the hundred partnership in 17 overs. The senior partner then took 12 off Rankin to reach his second century of the tournament, from 104 balls with 13 boundaries. It was six - his only maximum - and out against Stirling in the next over, Mooney holding the catch at long-off to end a stand of 121, but with 235 on the board and 10 overs remaining including a batting powerplay, one of the class acts of associate cricket had left the Netherlands perfectly placed.

His departure did stem the flow slightly, Mooney's next over going for only two and Stirling's last for five - his two for 51 broke the trend of yielding exactly 45 from 10 overs on three previous occasions in the tournament - but there was little luck of the Irish hours after St Patrick's Day had ended as new batsman Atse Buurman edged Mooney for two boundaries to bring up Holland's 250 in the 43rd over. Johnston demanded a review against Borren for lbw in the next - the first over of the Dutch powerplay - but the decision didn't change and a boundary followed later in the over to rub salt in the wounds.

Mooney and Johnston went for a punishing 11 apiece in the next two overs before Borren drove at a slower one to the former's penultimate ball - the all-rounder took two for 59 in his first full stint in the tournament - and couldn't clear Porterfield on the edge of the circle on the off side. However his 84 off 82 balls was a magnificent captain's innings which, along with ten Doeschate's century, has set the underdog Dutch up for victory. Johnston's last over in World Cup cricket went for only four to complete the powerplay but the Netherlands remained on course to break the 300-barrier and new batsman Mudassar Bukhari hurried them towards it by blasting the extremely expensive Rankin's first ball for six.

Fittingly another no-ball from Rankin brought up the Dutch 300 and he overstepped again next ball before the eventual free-hit, ironically, was a dot-ball. But the over produced 12 runs and in spite of Kevin O'Brien not conceding a run from the first half of the 50th over followed by a bizarre four run-outs off consecutive balls (Buurman, Pieter Seelaar, Bukhari and Adeel Raja) - the first from a wide - the damage had already been done and happy Holland went to lunch with the riches of 306 already in the bank and quite probably the match itself unless Ireland can produce some special batting of their own. If Ireland win from here, the small crowd will have had a wonderful day's entertainment.

Photographs