Murtagh wickets send Irish to top spot
Tim Murtagh topped and tailed the Hong Kong second innings in Belfast yesterday to bowl Ireland to a 70-run victory and send the defending champions 19 points clear at the top of the InterContinental Cup after four of seven matches.
The veteran Middlesex bowler removed both openers as the visitors set off in pursuit of 310 to end Ireland's perfect record in the tournament and returned with the second new ball to dismiss centurion Nizakat Khan as Hong Kong were bowled out for 239.
Ireland did not have things all their own way on the final day, with Hong Kong mopping up the home side's last four wickets in only 4.3 overs and then producing a number of stubborn partnerships, including 61 for the ninth wicket - a stand that was finally ended by Peter Chase after 20.2 overs.
Six balls later Murtagh had Nizakat caught by Ed Joyce at mid-off for 123 to finish with 4-29 and Ireland had completed another important step on the road to joining the Test match-playing elite of world cricket, possibly as soon as 2019.
"It was always going to be tough for us to take 20 wickets on that pitch because it played more like a sub-continent wicket than an Irish one," captain William Porterfield said.
"The boys stuck at it well and the two wickets Kevin O'Brien took either side of lunch really pegged them back.
"The pleasing thing for me is that we have now taken 20 wickets in all four games we've played and three of those wins have come on flat pitches. Four-day cricket is tough and we are looking to go into five-day games soon which is even tougher, so learning to take wickets in those conditions is valuable experience."
Ireland's next IC Cup match is against nearest rivals Afghanistan in India next March. Win that and a fifth title is all but assured, and with it a chance to take the Test Challenge against the lowest-ranked ICC Full Member with its prize of elevation to the top tier of the game.