Cricket: Shannon shines as narrow loss boosts Ireland's confidence
CONFIDENCE that Ireland can spring a major surprise at the U-19 World Cup has been enhanced by an agonising four-run loss to the West Indies yesterday in their final warm-up match.
If ever defeat was snatched from the jaws of a comfortable win it was here, as James Shannon superbly guided Ireland to within nine runs of victory with 19 balls left and five wickets in hand.
Then came calamity, with five wickets tumbling for just four runs as Ireland's pursuit of the West Indies' 187-9 from a reduced 42 overs veered off course.
However, with World Cup group opponents South Africa and Australia perhaps not as strong at present as their national pedigrees would suggest, Ireland can only be encouraged to have outplayed the West Indies with both bat and ball.
Former international Paul Mooney, who emigrated to New Zealand after the 2007 World Cup, looked on with bemusement as his cousin Eddie Richardson was left stranded when the final wicket fell, but he had a positive message for the young guns.
"That may not be a bad thing," he said. "None of them will want to lose like that again and it's better it happens now than in one of the group games. Ireland were the better side for long periods."
They really should have won. Nine runs from 19 balls with five wickets is a target that should be achieved 99 times out of a hundred, but then wicketkeeper Stuart Poynter ran himself out with a rash attempted single.
Two ducks followed in a double-wicket maiden from Jomel Warrican. Shannon reduced the requirement to six from the final over, but he seemed in two minds as to what to do with its first ball and was bowled via his pad for an excellent 83 from 108 balls.
Shannon, who has scored four half-centuries in as many innings, was close to tears as last man Craig Young was run out two balls later to give the West Indies their undeserved spoils.
Several team-mates should still have been apologising when they boarded their flight to Queenstown in the early hours of this morning -- in particular, star batsman Paul Stirling, who began with three crunching fours and then gave his wicket away on 17 with a lazy waft into the leg side.
Stirling, a full international who recently signed for Middlesex, looks in such awesome touch that he surely only has to stay in for 30 overs to beat any of the sides here. Another five overs against a modest West Indies attack would have been more than enough.
Openers Andy Balbirnie and Lee Nelson had departed within nine balls of the start of the innings and it required a well-paced partnership of 87 in 21.5 overs between Shannon and Ben Ackland to get Ireland back on course.
Among the other positives coach Matt Dwyer will take from the game was a much-improved fielding performance, which included a sensational effort at long-off by George Dockrell, who held a catch above his head, found himself toppling towards the boundary, threw the ball back into play and then caught it again.
What a shame that the TV cameras that will capture the later stages of the tournament were not there to catch it too.
At Christchurch (West Indies won toss): WEST INDIES 187-9 (42 overs, P Stirling 3-29, G Dockrell 2-21) beat IRELAND 183 (41.3 overs, J Shannon 83, B Ackland 32) by four runs.