O'Brien brothers carry Ireland past PNG
Ireland 289 (N O'Brien 63, Vanua 5-59) and 244 for 5 declared (K O'Brien 75, Joyce 58) beat Papua New Guinea 188 (Vala 120, Murtagh 4-33) and 200 (Bau 45, Rankin 3-31) by 145 runs
Ireland maintained their flawless run in the current edition of the Intercontinental Cup, once again claiming the maximum 20 points with a 145-run win over Papua New Guinea. Niall and Kevin O'Brien each scored key half-centuries to underpin victory in stifling conditions at Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville, Australia.
Niall's 63 off 168 balls in a first innings total of 289 came after Ireland was sent in following a delayed start due to morning rain on the opening day of play. Every member of the top eight reached double-figures but with the exception of Niall no one passed 50 as PNG's bowling unit, led by seamer Norman Vanua's 5 for 59, held Ireland's scoring rate in check. It was Vanua's maiden five-wicket haul in first-class cricket.
PNG's reply showed the value of Niall's knock as they struggled to combat a revamped Irish pace unit bolstered by the return of Boyd Rankin following his English sojourn. Assad Vala scored almost two-thirds of PNG's first-innings total of 188, registering his second first-class century with 120 before he was last man out to hand Ireland a 101-run lead and six first innings points. Rankin took 3 for 21 in 18 overs across a series of short spells that were capped at four overs. Tim Murtagh also shined in knocking over the top order before dismissing Vala to end the innings with 4 for 33.
Despite a half-century from Ed Joyce, Ireland were in trouble at 129 for 5 when Kevin teamed with Andy McBrine for a crucial 115-run sixth-wicket stand. The speed of the partnership, in particular Kevin's 75 off 95 balls in a match where the overall scoring rates were slow, enabled Ireland to declare with an hour left on day three and a lead of 346.
By the end of the third day, Murtagh had dislodged Lega Siaka to break the opening stand and then returned the final morning to nab the key scalp of Vala in the first half-hour of play to give Ireland a victory springboard. PNG had slim hopes of holding on for a draw midway through the post-lunch session with the score 167 for 5 and two set batsmen in Sese Bau and captain Jack Vare.
Wicketless in his first three spells of the fourth innings, Rankin returned three overs after a drinks break to start the 64th and struck with his second ball to bowl Bau for 45. When Rankin had Vare trapped in front for 31 to start the 68th, Ireland could breathe easier and three balls later he put the finishing touches on a match-seizing spell by claiming Vanua for a duck. George Dockrell and Craig Young finished off the rest of the tail to seal the match just before the final tea break.
The result puts Ireland back into first place on the Intercontinental Cup table with 60 points, 14 clear of Netherlands. Meanwhile, PNG sits tied for sixth place with Namibia at 20 points. The tour continues on Saturday with the first of three T20Is between the two sides as part of Ireland's preparation for next month's ICC World Twenty20 in India.