Cricket: Ireland close in on World Cup spot after magic Johnston spell
TRENT JOHNSTON produced a magical four-wicket spell in Sharjah to set up a victory over the United Arab Emirates that puts Ireland on the brink of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup.
The 38-year-old seamer took wickets with successive balls in his second over, had a very close shout for lbw with his hat-trick delivery and then winkled out the hosts' two best batsmen – all in sweltering conditions on a largely unresponsive pitch.
Alex Cusack and John Mooney chipped in with two wickets each as the UAE were bowled out for 196, and a clinical batting display, led by William Porterfield's 77, saw Ireland home with six wickets and 14 balls to spare.
Johnston's haul of 4-25 took him past Kyle McCallan into third place on the all-time list of Ireland wicket-takers with 257 victims and again underlined both his value to the team and his ability to turn it on for the big games.
"There was just a little bit more in the surface this time and one or two nipped around – but I had some luck out there and, to be honest, I've probably bowled better than that in the past and not taken a wicket," Johnston said, modestly.
"The first one held its line for an lbw and then next ball was probably a wide half-volley that he could have hit out of the ground, but instead nicked to slip. I'd have to say – after seeing a replay – the umpire got the hat-trick ball right, but I'd have referred it if I could have done!
"After that, the two big wickets both played on – the first (Swapnil) Patil took the outside edge and just clipped the top of off stump and their skipper (Khurram Khan) chopped one on from outside off.
"On another day, they could have gone anywhere.
"To bowl them out for under 200 was a great effort from the boys, though, and thanks to Porty we always had the target under control.
"It was great to come here and get two wins off these guys, because they were unbeaten in four games at home.
"I guess that means we've got one foot on the plane, but we'll still want to win all our remaining games."
While he "definitely" won't be around to play the finals in his native Australia at the start of 2015, Johnston's efforts have sent Ireland six points clear at the top of the qualifying table with four games to play.
One more win against the Netherlands or Scotland should be enough to reach a third successive World Cup.