One down, three to go as Stirling lifts Ireland spirit
Paul Stirling smashed a century and Boyd Rankin ripped out four wickets in 10 balls as Ireland crushed the United Arab Emirates by 226 runs (D/L Method) and charged into the Super Sixes of the World Cup qualifiers with two points and a much improved run-rate.
The Boys in Green needed a response to Saturday's setback against the West Indies and Stirling provided it with 126 from 117 balls, including 15 fours and five maximums, as he shared a record-breaking opening stand of 205 with William Porterfield.
The skipper fell for 92 from 103 balls but Kevin O'Brien came to the party in the final overs, belting a six and seven fours to finish on 50 not out, as Ireland posted 313-6 from a shower-shortened 44 overs.
Cruelly, the D/L calculation asked the UAE to chase an extra four, and Rankin's burst ended any thoughts of them getting close to 318. The big man from Co Tyrone finished with 4-15, Simi Singh collected his first ODI wicket and two more, while Barry McCarthy once again claimed two victims - the sixth consecutive time he has done so in ODIs this year.
The margin of victory has given Ireland an excellent nett run-rate going into the Super Sixes but it is unlikely to prove important in the final table after Scotland tied with Zimbabwe in Bulawayo - both sides progressing with three points, behind the West Indies with four. Afghanistan and the UAE make up the six but carry through no points.
"I felt in good nick and it was good to go on and get a big score," man-of-the-match Paul Stirling said.
"Going into this game we needed, I think, four wins from four to get through. So that's still on track, but three more to go."
After losing to the West Indies in a match his side probably should have won, Ireland coach Graham Ford reacted by replacing Gary Wilson and George Dockrell with McCarthy and Singh; Wilson had flown home to attend the birth of his son yesterday while Dockrell missed out to Singh's superior ability with the bat.
The win, allied to the tie in Bulawayo, leaves qualification firmly in Ireland's hands. Three wins against Zimbabwe on Friday, Scotland on Sunday and Afghanistan a week on Friday will deliver a place in next year's World Cup in England. One down, three to go.