Hong Kong stand between Irish and safe passage
THE parched oil state of UAE doesn't often see rain like that which greeted early-risers on Thursday. "The worst rain for a decade," intoned the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology, as almost one-third of its annual quota of 12cm was dumped on Abu Dhabi.
The downpour closed schools (imagine that, Mr Quinn – we'd all be illiterate) and the Sheikh Zayed Highway which links Abu Dhabi to Dubai was flooded. The already erratic drivers were confounded and skids, prangs and pile-ups were commonplace on the streets of the capital – one high-speed collision with a lamppost came within a bat's length of your correspondent.
The rain also ruined Ireland's cricketers' aim of progressing through the World Twenty20 qualifier with a 100 per cent record, wiping out the game against Italy and making today's game against Hong Kong a must-win. Victory will guarantee a place in Bangladesh, defeat will mean negotiating a tricky series of play-offs to finish in the top six.
As the Irish bus pulled away from the Sheikh Zayed Oval No 1, one supporter broke into the Crowded House hit 'Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you . . .' Phil Simmons' men have also brought their highly-tuned experience with them, and it saw them through two last-over thrillers where they held on for two- and five-run wins against Canada and UAE.
The Ireland coach acknowledged his team had started the tournament slowly. "A couple of games we haven't played well – so there are things to work on," he said yesterday. "But the batting has been top-class so far in every game. Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien haven't had a big score yet and hopefully they will."
The highlight of the event so far has been William Porterfield's unbeaten 127 against USA, the first Irish century in the format and the ninth-highest of all-time for any side. Even allowing for the standard of opposition, it was a remarkable display by a man not known for expansive batting.
"William has been scoring for us all season," said Simmons, "even if Warwickshire don't want him to play. It was an exceptional knock."
The Irish skipper had a difficult couple of seasons with his county, and one remarkable stat is that he has now scored more runs in 2013 in the UAE (715, with three 100s and three 50s) than he has in England (702, with two 50s).
The settled Irish batting order has been flexible because of the absence of Ed Joyce, still ensconced in the south of England awaiting the arrival of his second child with his wife Francesca. The veteran left-hander was selected full in the knowledge that he would not join the party until his duty to his family was complete.
But with just seven days left in the tournament and Ireland confident that the main job will be achieved today, his presence may not be required. Manager Roy Torrens revealed last night that it was "now unlikely" that Joyce would be asked to fly out to join the squad, presumably meaning that he will only be summoned in case of injuries to a key batsman.
There is less margin for error in the bowling department, which has occasionally struggled with the fierce heat and unresponsive pitches. As the tournament goes on, and strips begin to be reused, their job should become easier.
"The bowlers haven't hit their straps, the same as the last time we were here," says Simmons. "No-one has really fired except Dock (George Dockrell) and Max (Sorensen). It's all coming together and we know we can improve in each area."
Their opponents today are Hong Kong, who last played a major associate tournament in 2001, when Ireland beat them easily, in part thanks to Ed Joyce's 51no. They have surprised many in the competition, winning five out of six, and Ireland will be wary of their spinners, chiefly the kinky elbow of 41-year-old slow left-armer Munir Dar.
"I tend to take games one by one so I haven't really looked at them," said Simmons, "but I'll study them over the next day or so – they've done well but they lost to UAE so they'll have to come at us looking for the win. It will be a tough game."