Cusack to fore as Ireland boost World Cup hopes
ALEX CUSACK was the local hero with a spell of 3-6 as Ireland pulled off a stunning 59-run victory over Afghanistan at Clontarf yesterday to move one step closer to the 2015 World Cup finals.
After the first of two World League qualifiers was rained off, Ireland were put into bat on a difficult pitch and dismissed for 163, a modest total that would have been miserable but for Ed Joyce's patient 67 not out.
Afghanistan were strong favourites at half-time but Ireland roared back at their nearest rivals among the non-Test teams with two early wickets for Trent Johnston and a superb burst from the unsung Cusack.
The wiry all-rounder, who plays for Clontarf, hit the stumps in each of his first two overs and followed up with an lbw verdict that left Afghanistan 33-5 and effectively beaten.
Young spinners Paul Stirling and George Dockrell took two wickets each, and a sixth win from eight played in the World League was wrapped up when the visitors were bowled out for 104 at the start of the 34th over.
"We did well to scratch our way to a score because it wasn't easy batting first after all the weather we've had," Cusack said. "This is my home ground and I love bowling here so all I did was try to hit the top of off-stump and not give them any room to play shots."
The one slight disappointment for Ireland was that new bowling recruit Tim Murtagh didn't claim a wicket but the Middlesex man did contribute a crucial 15 with the bat as the last two wickets added 57.
While Joyce showed all his experience in a gritty 124-ball innings, Kevin O'Brien was the one Irish batsman who seemed comfortable on a surface assisting seam and spin alike.
The Railway Union man smashed a trademark six and had begun to make up for an early clatter of wickets when he failed to respond swiftly enough to Joyce's call and was run out for 31 by a direct hit.
Joyce stroked six fours but with wickets tumbling at the other end it required support from Murtagh and Dockrell to stretch the innings to 47 overs.
The victory keeps Ireland comfortably top of the eight-nation table -- from which the two leading teams will qualify for the finals in Australia and New Zealand -- and gives them a three-win cushion over Afghanistan with each team having six left to play.
A good set of results in Ireland's next two pairs of games, against the United Arab Emirates and Holland, would sew up qualification before the final two encounters in Scotland next summer.