There were wins for Ireland over Zimbabwe and Pakistan over South Africa today at the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Ireland's triumph wasn't without its moment of controversy. They eventually won a pulsating contest by five runs. A little while earlier Sean Williams had been given out caught on the boundary when many thought that the fielder John Mooney's foot had touched the rope, meaning that six runs could've been the result. Did the boundary cushion move? Make your own mind up.
That moment, however, shouldn't detract from a game that was a brilliant advert for what the so-called 'minnows' of cricket bring to this World Cup.
Ireland batted first in a contest that swung one way and then the other throughout. Ed Joyce was dropped en route to a magnificent century. He added 138 with Andy Balbirnie - who having waited 13 ODIs for a ODI half-century suddenly found himself with two in as many matches - before being dismissed for 112. Balbirnie was run-out in the final over three runs short of a maiden century as Ireland finished on 331 for eight against a Zimbabwe bowling attack that has let their side down during this tournament.
Their captain Brendan Taylor was scathing in his assessment of his side's display in the field after the match, saying, "It's pretty frustrating to be in a winning situation again, and throw it away a little bit. Ireland were a little bit more hungry, they deserved to win. It hasn't been clever cricket from us, at crucial periods. It's a tough one to follow. The bowling was poor, really. We weren't hungry in the field, our energy levels were poor."
The batting again almost got Zimbabwe out of their hole despite a terrible start which saw them slip to 74 for four. Taylor and Williams brought them back into the match with a brilliant fifth-wicket partnership of 149 before Taylor was sent back by man-of-the-moment Alex Cusack in the powerplay for 121.
Cusack held his nerve admirably. He will retire at the end of the tournament but successfully defended seven off the final over by bowling Regis Chakabva and having a free-swinging Tawanda Mupariwa - who had again edged Zimbabwe ahead in the previous over - caught by Ireland skipper William Porterfield. Cusack finished with incredible figures of four for 32.
Stat of the day:
Cusack was comfortably the most economical bowler of the match, conceding his runs at a rate of 3.36 per over when the next best bowlers went for 5.6.
Because of the way Pool B has worked out, the three wins that Ireland have so far gained - and the number which should see England qualify if they achieve them despite their dismal campaign - will probably not be enough for them to make the quarter-finals. West Indies will almost certainly beat UAE in their final group game, meaning that Ireland need a win, or a washout, in one of their last two games against India or Pakistan, who also have six points along with South Africa, due to their inferior net run rate. This is despite them beating West Indies earlier in the tournament. Should the table be ordered on head-to-head record first before bringing net run rate into the equation?
Pakistan and South Africa also both have six points following the former's win via the Duckworth-Lewis method in a relatively low-scoring match in Auckland. South Africa's last match is against a winless UAE so they will still be optimistic of a top two finish. Pakistan's final match against Ireland on 15th March could yet turn into a straight shoot-out.
The match at Eden Park was a case of Pakistan's fast-bowling getting the better of an occasionally-fragile Proteas batting line-up. Chasing 232 off 47 overs, only AB de Villiers shone with 77 off 58 balls as they were all out for 202. The pacy left-arm trio of Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz proved a constant threat and ended with three wickets each. Pakistan had earlier posed 222 as skipper Misbah-ul-Haq top-scored with a determined 56.
Man of the day:
After waiting all tournament for a chance, against the wishes of many, Sarfraz Ahmed wasted no time in impressing. He hit a run-a-ball 49 as opener and then broke the national record for number of dismissals in a ODI at six. His catch to dismiss Hashim Amla - a one handed pluck that one could never have envisaged his predecessor clinging onto - was almost as good as Dale Steyn's effort in the outfield earlier in the day.
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