Cautious Ireland focus on prize ahead
Ireland 589 for 7 dec (Joyce 155, O'Brien 126) and 188 for 3 (Porterfield 101*, White 52) drew with UAE 360 (Khurram Khan 115, Arshad Ali 95, Patil 89, Johnston 4-62)
Ireland have often been praised for their daring cricket but they opted for caution on the last day of their Intercontinental Cup game against UAE. Despite getting a first innings lead of 229 runs, Ireland declined to enforce the follow-on, and finished on 188-3 in their second innings as the match descended into a tedious draw.
The decision is easy to criticise, and perhaps suggests a lack of self-belief that Ireland could dismiss UAE in the 75 overs or so remaining. But actually it can be defended.
The most important games of this tour, the World Cup qualifiers on Monday and Wednesday, are still to come. It would have made little sense for Ireland to strive for victory, bowling Trent Johnston into the ground and then risk the 38-year-old being injured for the qualifiers. Perhaps the issue was really one of scheduling; had the Intercontinental Cup game been at the end of Ireland's tour, they wouldn't have had such concerns.
Even without going for victory, Ireland should still be content: they received nine points for first-innings lead to consolidate their position at the top of the table. They now need a maximum of 15 points from their final two games to qualify for the final, which will be held at the end of the year. UAE need to win both their remaining fixtures to have any chance of qualifying.
When the immaculate Johnston wrapped up the UAE first innings with three morning wickets, the day had promised a little more. Figures of 4 for 60 from 26.1 overs, on a pitch offering the bowlers nothing, were reward for a cricketer who has come to embody the spirit of Irish cricket. There was less fortune for UAE wicketkeeper-batsman Swapnil Patel, who was left stranded on 89*, not helped by Saqib Shah retiring hurt.
Ireland's decision to bat again rendered the rest of the day a glorified net session. Skipper William Porterfield had time to complete his ninth century for Ireland, though it is one few will remember. Andrew White was also promoted to number three and made a half-century.
Yet the lack of intensity on the final day shouldn't be replicated in next week's World Cricket League games, both of which are being televised by the ICC. With two wins, Ireland could virtually seal automatic qualification to the 2015 World Cup. If UAE are able to win one of the games, they will jump to second in the table, and on course for the other automatic berth.
Reflecting on the decision not to enforce the follow on, Porterfield said: "It's a very flat wicket and it would have been hard on the bowlers to ask them to go out and do it again after spending nearly 140 overs in those conditions. Some people might think it was negative but we would have been running our bowlers into the ground, and it would be pointless seeing as we've got two massive games coming up next week.
Trent Johnston said that the pitch was one of the flattest he'd ever bowled on. "It was hard out work out there, and very difficult for the bowlers. George (Dockrell) didn't see a ball turn in his 46 overs, while the new ball only swung for about one over in total. To get nine points here was good, as I couldn't see us getting 14 wickets in the day, after only 13 fell on the first three days. The WCL is the priority but I love playing four-day cricket and we are confident of getting enough points against Netherlands and Scotland to make the final."