Ireland v South Africa, One-off ODI, Belfast June 24, 2007

'He's going to be in Irish colours for a long time" - Johnston

For Alex Cusack it was a memorable debut as he came away with the Man-of-the-Match award © Getty Images

Alex Cusack almost ended up playing for Ireland by accident. Born in Brisbane he didn't have a club when he made the move but a contact put him in touch with Clontarf in Dublin. In 2005 he made the decision to stay and two years later walked away with the Man-of-the-Match award, albeit in a losing cause, on his one-day international debut, leaving Trent Johnston to say: "He's going to be in these Irish colours for a long time and he deserves that."

During the day he was misnamed 'John' by the TV commentators and wrote himself a fine script with 3 for 15 and an unbeaten 36, a far cry from his first match for Ireland - in the Friends Provident Trophy - against Middlesex where he bowled three expensive overs. "It was great fun," he said, "I was probably a bit more relaxed. You've just got to get it in your mind that it's just another game, do the basics right and go from there."

Cusack, who is a carpenter by trade, was Ireland's one change from yesterday's nine-wicket defeat against India replacing Gary Wilson in the side. He was the seventh option used by Johnston and it soon seemed as though he should have been on much earlier. He kept his cool at the end as the South African batsmen tried to clear the ropes.

"I do it a lot for my club. I'm used to it. I like it, sometimes you go for runs, sometimes you get a few wickets. That's the way it goes."

Johnston added that it was a performance he knew Cusack had in him. "We knew he could make the step up," he said. "He may have been a bit nervous with the ball against Middlesex but he came out there in tough conditions, against quality batsmen with short boundaries and he hit the top of off-stump and showed us how well he could bat."

Overall Johnston was encouraged by his team's effort, but rued the fact that both the batting and the bowling didn't fire on the same day. "The guys were positive and we had a bit of luck. But unfortunately it turned against us with Kenny [Carroll] slipping over [getting out hit wicket] and then we lost three quick wickets.

"It was back to the good old days of where we performed well in one discipline and let ourselves down in the other. I don't know when we are going to put a good game together. It's been some time now since we've done that. But we've got a quadrangular series next month to look forward to and hopefully we can perform better in that than we have done over the last couple of days."

That a match was completed at all was a prospect that appeared highly unlikely during the early afternoon. Persistent, heavy drizzle hung around - and returned at the start of Ireland's run chase - and both sides deserve credit for being keen to have a match. South Africa, especially, got into the spirit of the occasion because, with more important matches coming up, it would have been easy for them to be reluctant to take the field.

"We haven't played much cricket and to go against India without a game wouldn't have been ideal," said Jacques Kallis, "but now most of the guys have had a hit and a bowl so it has let them get the rust out and get ready for the next game."

It was a good day for debutants. Vernon Philander, on his 22nd birthday, was the star bowler for the visitors with 4 for 12. They were the second best figures by a South African in ODIs - behind Allan Donald's 5 for 29 against India - and the seventh best by any player. There a big plans ahead for him in the South African team. "He's done well back home in domestic cricket and that's the reason he got a call-up here," explained Kallis.

"He's a good allrounder, someone who hopefully can fill Shaun Pollock's boots, which are big boots to fill, and he started well today. He landed the ball in the right areas, there was a little bit in the wicket, and he exploited it expertly. I certainly hope he has a bright future ahead of him."

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo.