Johnston's touch of class keeps Ireland on course for Bangladesh
IRELAND have one foot on the plane to Bangladesh for another appearance on the big stage in March after surviving back-to-back thrillers at the World T20 qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates over the weekend.
First Alex Cusack held his nerve to deliver a two-run victory over Canada on Saturday then yesterday it was veteran Trent Johnston's turn to deny the hosts by five runs.
In both matches it was Ireland's experience and professionalism that won the day, prevailing over middling performances with bat and ball.
There were notable exceptions in both games – Johnston appearing at No 5 against Canada to match his age with a lusty 39 not out and Gary Wilson and Kevin O'Brien adding 92 for the fourth wicket against the UAE on a tricky surface.
Wilson, who made 53 not out from 44 balls, again proved himself to be "the finisher" for Ireland – the batsman who sees his team home, or to a score that should bring victory.
"Good teams win when they're not quite playing at their best and that's how it's been with us this past couple of days," Wilson said. "We're not quite on it – but it's nice to get the points and top the group with three wins out of three.
"I actually don't feel I'm hitting the ball that well myself either, so to make runs was pleasing. It wasn't easy to bat on – it was low and slow – so 138 was about par."
A total of 168-5 should have brought a more comfortable victory over Canada – especially when Max Sorensen took wickets with the first two balls of the reply – but by bowling both sides of the wicket Ireland were heading for defeat before Cusack broke a third-wicket partnership of 125.
Canada captain Ashish Bagai kept his side in the hunt but with 14 needed from the final over even a worrying six from the third ball wasn't quite enough to tip the balance.
In the yesterday's game, it was Sorensen and Paul Stirling who applied a brake to the UAE pursuit of 138-5 and with 24 needed from 12 balls everything was under control – only for Cusack to concede two sixes in the penultimate over.
It wasn't quite a "Dave Langford-Smith in Nairobi" moment – when needing 20 to win from two overs in 2007, Kenya won with six balls to spare – but it piled far too much pressure on Johnston.
The big man has rarely let Ireland down, though, and he was again equal to the task, bowling full and wrapping up the last three UAE wickets with the aid of two run-outs.