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Match Report
Ian Callender

Day 1

Three wickets in the final session by John Mooney hauled Ireland back into contention in the Intercontinental Cup final in Dubai but Afghanistan were, comfortably, the happier team at the end of day one.

The holders bowled out Ireland for 187 and had reduced the deficit by 81 when the light faded to end play 13 minutes early. Only John Anderson and Mooney got past 20, ironically the two players who may not even have been playing if Ireland had their 14-man panel to choose from.

But with neither Tim Murtagh nor Gary Wilson available for selection, the team virtually picked itself, with Stuart Thompson, the only player remaining, fulfilling 12th man duties.

For Trent Johnston and Andrew White in their landmark game, it was a steady rather than spectacular start. Johnston will be hoping he has one more innings in an Ireland shirt after his third ball dismissal yesterday and the highlight's of White's record-equalling 226th Ireland cap so far has been a catch at third slip, rather than the 11 runs he scored from 28 balls.

National coach Phil Simmons - as ever giving nothing away, even after the team was selected - hinted that Anderson may have started even if everyone was available because of his record in the competition this season; he scored a century against the Netherlands and followed up with 56 against Scotland.

The Merrion batsman almost maintained his average, top scoring from No 6 with 55, but was eventually upstaged by Mooney, with whom he shared the only 50-partnership of the day and then took his first three-wicket haul in the competition.

Coming on in the 15th over, with only 29 runs on the board, Mooney gave a lot of the credit to the opening bowlers, Johnston and Max Sorensen.

"They bowled brilliant at the start and didn't let them get away. I was the lucky one to get the wickets," said Mooney.

"It's certainly not a 187-wicket, it's a good pitch and our backs are against the walls. There is a bit happening but if you apply yourself there are runs to be scored as Ando showed."

"It's also a big ask for Ed Joyce and Andrew White, who both missed the Twenty20 competition, to come out of our winter and hit the ground running in a first class games against a good side. You can be a bit rusty, but hopefully we can put it right in the second innings."

The day had started badly for Ireland when Murtagh flew home, for personal reasons, to be with his family, and it just got worse. Gary Wilson took ill during the night and was still in his hotel room when William Porterfield's luck ran out at the toss.

Ireland batted first in all eight matches in their victorious World Twenty20 Qualifying campaign in Abu Dhabi last month but, on the day he desperately wanted to field - on a pitch with a hint of green and dew - he was walking out at 10am with Paul Stirling to open the innings.

Five minutes later he was walking in the opposite direction, caught at second slip, the first - all credit to the Afgans - of several superb catches.

Stirling played the worst shot of the day, the ball after his third boundary, to give a straightforward catch to the wicket-keeper who also ended Joyce and Kevin O'Brien's and innings. Niall O'Brien played on and White missed a sweep before a low catch at first slip ended the seventh wicket partnership between Anderson and Mooney.

The latter followed three balls later to a even better one at second slip and after Johnston was bamboozled by the leg spin for Rehmat Shah, Sorensen and George Dockrell added what might yet be a meaningful 23 runs for the last wicket.

Afghanistan were determined to "dig in' when they went out to bat and Nawroz Mangal took 19 balls to get off the mark but with his second ball, Mooney had him caught down the leg side by Niall O'Brien, wearing the Ireland gloves for only the second time since the end of 2011.

Two more wickets in six balls from Mooney, the first to that superb grab by White, continued the Ireland fightback and left Mooney, who bowled in only one of Ireland's eight matches last month, reflecting on what might have been and what is still to come.

"I probably wouldn't have been playing if we were at full strength so am just happy to be playing and taking wickets. We thought we were going to get a couple more tonight but the light cost us five overs. But a good start in the morning with TJ and Max fresh we will have a good crack at them," he said.

Day 2

Ireland had every record in the book in their sights after two days of the Intercontinental Cup final against Afghanistan in Dubai.

Despite scoring only 187 in their first innings they ended the second day of the decider with a lead of 164 and eight second innings wickets standing. As winners of the eight-team league section of the competition, a draw will ensure Ireland are crowned I-Cup winners for a fourth time and they can add the trophy to their World (50-over) Cricket League and World Twenty20 Qualifying cups, already in the Cricket Ireland office.

Put simply, Ireland have no absolutely no reason to declare and can bat for as long as they want with targets like their highest ever total of 589 and Eoin Morgan's 209 as the best individual score up for grabs over the remaining three days.

Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien have made the best possible start to those objectives with a unbroken partnership of 106 dominating the last session yesterday and with the next four batsmen in the order all having scored first class centuries, with this team in this all-conquering mood, anything is possible.

They will also be helped by a pitch which has flattened out, from the terrors of the first session of the match when Ireland lost five wickets, into a batting paradise with virtually no movement for the seam bowlers and minimal and slow turn.

Having failed the first time around, Ireland's top order batsmen are determined to make amends and Joyce with a typically fluent 74 not out and Niall O'Brien with a characteristically, patient 40 not out from 105 balls have led the way after Paul Stirling was caught down the leg side and William Porterfield's surprising lapse on the stroke of tea.

O'Brien was dropped from the final three games in last month's Twenty20 qualifiers because of slow scoring but there no complaints from anyone as he dug in last night and was the perfect foil for Joyce who has already stroked 13 boundaries; O'Brien has hit two.

With Afghanistan starting the day on 81 for three, the Ireland bowlers knew it was up to them to drag the team back into the match and no-one tried harder than Trent Johnston.

The 39-year-old, playing his last international - and determined to leave with another winner's medal - somehow went 20 overs without taking a wicket but, finally, he found an edge which went to hand and in disbelief, as much as relief, he went down on his knees and raised his eyes heavenwards. One of the more unusual celebrations but totally understandable.

"It was certainly quite a wait," Johnston admitted. "I thought it was going to be one of those days but it was just a matter of putting the ball in the right areas and eventually something would go to hand.

"But it was a tremendous performance by the guys to get a first innings lead and Joyce and Niall showed all their 10 years of county experience to see us through to the end. Now I just want to put my feet up for another two days and watch us bat and bat."

Before Johnston, "golden arm' John Mooney had taken two of the first three wickets to give him his maiden five-wicket haul for Ireland and George Dockrell, who claimed the other, finished off the innings, the last four wickets falling for seven runs to give Ireland a lead of five.

After that, the batsmen dare not let their bowlers down!

Day 3

Ireland colossus Trent Johnston may be denied one last hurrah by injury. The 39 year old hobbled out of the Intercontinental Cup final against Afghanistan in Dubai just before tea yesterday and did not reappear for the final session.

None of the Ireland management team would reveal what the injury was, but neither would they rule out a return this morning as Ireland sought the final five wickets which would win the Intercontinental Cup.

Afghanistan, the holders, started the fourth day this morning needing 211 runs but Ireland, who took the first five wickets of the final innings for just 85, are hot favourites to hold all three trophies in Associate cricket in each form of the game.

Johnston, in his 198th and final game for Ireland, almost 10 years after his debut, did manage two overs with the new ball and has already taken the 273rd of his career, trapping Shabir Noori plumb in front. But seven balls later he left the field and everyone in the Irish camp was hoping that a night's rest would allow him back on the field to play a meaningful part in what should be a victory lap for Ireland.

The expected records with the bat after the second day were never threatened. Ed Joyce was out in the first over, having added just one more boundary four to his overnight total and that set the pattern for another wicket-laden day.

Ireland lost their remaining seven wickets in just three and a half hours, bowled out for 341 and then dismissed half the Afghanistan side in 22 overs, setting up the possibility of a three-day victory. However, a 50-run partnership between Rahmat Shah and captain Mohammad Nabi thwarted the Ireland bowlers in the final hour to keep everyone waiting for the last rites.

It was the not the way captain William Porterfield expected the day to pan out but he was more than happy with Ireland's position at the end of it.

"We would have liked to have been batting in the final session tonight but to take five wickets was a fantastic effort. It is a decent cricket wicket in that there is something there for the bowlers, so the batsmen must expect to be put under pressure and wickets to fall. But if you had given me 346 to defend in the fourth innings, especially after our first day's batting, I would definitely have taken it," said Porterfield.

And as for Johnston's hopes of taking the field again, the captain would only say: "We'll find out about TJ in the morning. Obviously he will be desperate to be out there in his last game taking wickets for the team. He got us off to a great start and got a nick from his first ball and a wicket off his fifth so it was a pretty action packed 12 balls, and hopefully he will be out with us sometime tomorrow."

There is no shortage of replacements for Johnston, however and although Tim Murtagh is missing this match, it was an opportunity for the rest of the side last night to put their hand up.

John Mooney took his sixth wicket of the match, thanks to a superb catch by Niall O'Brien down the leg side but Max Sorensen is still looking for his first wicket of the match - after 25 overs - and Kevin O'Brien was the other seam bowler used.

Ireland's not so secret weapon last night was George Dockrell, the Somerset slow left armer taking three wickets in 15 balls to put Ireland in control and, on a fourth day pitch, he will expect to add to that tally in the morning.

The most disappointed player in the Ireland side was Niall O'Brien. The second-most prolific performer in the Intercontinental Cup was caught, driving loosely, at cover, just 13 short of what would have been a record-equalling seventh century in the competition.

"This is the third final I've played in, and in the two other finals I've got hundreds. So it did play on my mind a bit as I would have levelled Ryan Ten Doeschate's centuries (for the Netherlands). So from my point of view, personally, it's really disappointing. But from the team point of view, I think we managed to put a pretty good score on the board and we are just looking forward to keeping things tight in the morning and hoping to take the remaining wickets for the victory," he said.

The other Ireland player averaging over 60 in the competition was Andrew White but he was aggrieved to be given out leg before for 39, and then Kevin O'Brien with a breezy 47, from 43 balls with nine fours, shared a stand of 41 with Johnston who threatened to hit a fairytale half-century in his final innings, only to be cut short on 31, when he holed out to long-on.

A fourth I-Cup winners' medal, however, today, should be Johnston's epitath.

Day 4

Ireland duly collected the Intercontinental Cup for the fourth time on Friday afternoon as Trent Johnston's career in the green shirt came to a fitting end with a 122 run victory over Afghanistan in Dubai.

While all eyes were on the YMCA man going into the game, an achilles injury meant he was forced to watch from the sidelines on the final day. However it was to be his Leinster Lightning team-mate John Mooney who grabbed the headlines- Mooney proving his worth to William Porterfield by claiming five second innings wickets, giving him ten in the match.

Ireland's decisive second innings display meant that the Afghans needed an unlikely 347 to snatch the trophy away and at 136 for 5 overnight it looked a forlorn hope. The not out batsmen, Rahmat Shah and Mohammad Nabi didn't see it that way and on the restart this morning they gave Ireland plenty to think about.

Time wasn't an issue with two full days to play and both men made the bowlers work hard in the opening exchanges. Worryingly for Porterfield the pair batted relatively untroubled through the morning session and into the afternoon taking Afghanistan's reply to 199, with a partnership worth 114.

However the new ball proved decisive, and their attritional resistance was ended when Max Sorensen took the new ball and trapped Nabi leg before for a very patient 49 (7 fours, 174 balls).

After that you sensed the end was nigh and despite Shah's individual defiance, Phil Simmons' charges moved in for the kill. The Afghanistan batsman was left stranded on 86 not out (12 fours) as Mooney returned to the attack to rip out the last four wickets for the addition of 25 runs.

The final margin of victory was 122 runs and while this was very much a team effort over the four days, few would begrudge Mooney the plaudits he deserved. The North County all-rounder has struggled to find his best form at times this year and endured a frustrating 18 months with injuries, but his commitment to Ireland's cause has never been in doubt and his efforts here made the man-of-the-match decision a straightforward one.

Fittingly however the last word was left to Johnston as skipper Porterfield stepped aside to let his colleague pick up the trophy, and his fourth winners medal in this competition. If ever a man has epitomised the efforts required at this level it is Trent and although it has been said many times before, these really will be huge boots to fill.

A magnificent year for Irish cricket coming to an end in style with another tournament success to complete a historic treble, and an equally magnificent end to a glittering career as 'TJ' signed off as he spent most of his career, as a winner.

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Day 1
Day 3
Day 4
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