'Home' comforts help Cusack lead Ireland's World Cup prospects
ALEX CUSACK has been central to many of Ireland's recent triumphs but few would have given him as much pleasure as watching from the other end as George Dockrell hit the winning runs on Wednesday night, just a few minutes' drive from where he grew up in Brisbane.
Cusack (right) contributed only five to the ninth-wicket stand of 12 that dragged Ireland over the line against the UAE but every run was cheered on by family and friends as the Boys in Green notched another World Cup victory.
"I'd actually played on the outfield at the Gabba as a kid during a camp, but that's the first time I'd played a proper match there," said Cusack, whose father Richard emigrated to Australia from Tipperary in the 1950s.
"Growing up in Bardon, one of the northern suburbs, I'd go there to see Queensland and follow players like Matt Hayden and Stuart Law, and I remember watching Pakistan play South Africa in the 1992 World Cup. There's always a great atmosphere."
The 34-year-old Clontarf all-rounder clearly thrives on the big occasion. Kevin O'Brien could not have beaten England without his support and half-century in Bangalore four years ago; Cusack was also man-of-the-match when Ireland won the InterContinental Cup final in 2008 and has been a star performer in T20s as well.
Injury has curtailed his role in recent seasons and there were doubts over him participating in a second World Cup after he missed nearly all the domestic season with wear and tear injuries to both hips, but coach Phil Simmons clearly wanted him in the squad.
"I'm not too bad. I've still got a few niggles but nothing serious," he said. "The long gaps between games helps me. It is tough to get myself up for another game a couple of days after the last but I'm bowling more overs in the nets than in the past couple of years."
Cusack has another year on his contract with Cricket Ireland and hopes to play and coach again this summer for Clontarf, where he found a cricketing home after arriving to live and work as a carpenter in Dublin in 2003.
Before that, though, there is the next World Cup challenge on Tuesday when Ireland face South Africa in Canberra, but if Cusack has any plans to combat the free scoring of AB de Villiers and Co he is typically keeping them close to his chest.
The quiet man of the Ireland dressing-room is not one to give much away, never mind drop a name. Asked finally whether he had been team-mates with any well-known players during his time at Northern Suburbs in Brisbane, he replied: "Yeah, one or two." Then, after a pause: "Mitchell Johnson?"
Meanwhile, the ICC suffered a further public relations blow to its plan to reduce team numbers in the 2019 World Cup when Afghanistan and Scotland produced another thrilling finish in Dunedin, with the Afghans winning by one wicket with three balls to spare in Pool A.
Much to the embarrassment of the game's governing body that wants to ban them from future tournaments, the smaller nations - or 'Associates' - have now provided both sides in the two most exciting Pool games and been involved in all the close contests of the first 18 matches.