Ireland edge Italy in low-scoring encounter
Ireland 104 for 8 (Wilson 30*, Crowley 3-16) beat Italy 100 for 7 (Di Venuto 23, Rankin 3-16) by two wickets
The eclectic talents of Italy almost caused a major upset at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, running Ireland to the final couple of deliveries.
Italy rely heavily on players of Italian heritage - rather than those born in the country - and were a match for Ireland until the very last over. Italy's batting was below par, barely scraping past 100, but the slow bowling and fielding ensured a tight finish for Phil Simmons' men. In the end the margin was two wickets with just two balls to spare as Gary Wilson kept his head in a tense finale.
The left-arm spin of Damian Crowley was almost Ireland's undoing as the Nottinghamshire 2nd XI player took 3 for 12 off four magical overs.
Gary Wilson admitted it had been a "smash and grab" win for Ireland. "All we can take from the game are the two points - and run," he said. "Two or three guys got starts and didn't go on so we wouldn't have been in that position if one of them did."
William Porterfield was even more critical of his batsmen. "We made it hard for ourselves in the middle order with a couple of soft dismissals," he said.
Italy won the toss and batted on a slow surface. The Irish fielding was its usual tigerish self and the Italians struggled to get on top of disciplined bowling. Ireland kept the boundary count down once again, conceding just three fours and a pair of late sixes clouted by captain Alessandro Bonora.
Ireland offspinner Paul Stirling was given the new ball and responded with two immaculate overs costing just one run, as well as picking up the scalp of Andy Northcote. There was also the novel sight of a 37-year-old New South Welshman bowling to a 38-year-old Tasmanian. Trent Johnston won that contest, bowling a maiden first up, but Michael Di Venuto played a backbone role to top score with 23 off 44 balls as wickets fell around him.
After five overs Italy had made just 16, and the half way score of 39 for 2 was no platform for expansion. Middlesex allrounder Gareth Berg stuck around for 19 before he played an awful shot to square leg to give his club mate Stirling a second wicket.
Berg and Di Venuto had taken the score to 55 but the Italians lost five wickets for 22 runs as first the spinners cashed in and then Boyd Rankin returned.
The 6ft 8in paceman had recorded a T20 career best the day before, and improved on that with two lethal deliveries to send Crowley and Hayden Patrizi back to the pavilion. The Warwickshire bowler has concentrated on bowling at the stumps and was rewarded by seeing the poles cartwheel twice in a fiery second spell.
Max Sorensen, who came in for Andrew White, was entrusted with the 18th and 20th overs, and picked up Carl Sandri to a catch in the deep. Bonora took the total into three figures when he just cleared the fielder on the square-leg rope.
"If it ain't broke don't fix it," they say, but Ireland failed to heed that old saw and separated the pairing of Stirling and William Porterfield that saw them to a ten-wicket win over Kenya. Kevin O'Brien was promoted and carved the first ball to the third-man boundary but perished to the first delivery of the second over, bowled by Carl Sandri. The Melbourne-born offspinner has been in fine form in the tournament and picked up two more scalps to take his total to eight.
Porterfield and Stirling put on 25 before the Italians found their range and the Middlesex man edged behind to Patrizi. Ireland then made heavy weather of getting the runs as the middle order departed in a flurry.
Crowley caused all sorts of problems as Ireland almost became unstuck.
A fantastic piece of fielding by Di Venuto saw John Mooney depart to a direct hit and Ireland were confronted with the serious possibility of an early departure from a tournament they were expected to win.
As the tension mounted the cool head of wicketkeeper Wilson was required and he tapped judicious singles before taking on Northcote in the final over. With eight wickets down Ireland still needed seven off five balls, but a reverse sweep reached the fence, followed by a two and a clubbed straight hit to leave Wilson unbeaten on 30 and Ireland joining Italy on two wins out of three.
Edited by Alan Gardner