Afghanistan v Ireland, World T20 Qualifier final, Dubai March 24, 2012

Stirling whirlwind takes Ireland to title

Ger Siggins

Ireland 156 for 5 (Stirling 79, Wilson 32) beat Afghanistan 152 for 7 (Shahzad 77, O'Brien 2-18) by five wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Ireland and Afghanistan served up a blistering classic in the final of the World Twenty20 Qualifier in Dubai, putting to rest any fears that the game would be an anti-climax after both teams had already sealed their spot in the World Twenty20 to be held later this year.

The game was adorned by brilliant innings from two pugnacious batsmen, Mohammad Shahzad and Paul Stirling. Shahzad cut loose at the bowling, crashing 77 off 57 balls as he finally found a way to overcome Ireland's grip. Shahzad, the match-winner in this event two years ago, with an unbeaten 65 then, infuriated the Irish attack who responded with long hops that he deposited over the ropes.

Boyd Rankin's first ball was hit for six by Karim Sadiq, but Rankin responded with an angry spell, dismissing Sadiq, who was bowled after the ball crashed into his helmet and rolled onto the stumps. Trent Johnston also got some early stick but had the other opener Javed Ahmadi held at third man.

The middle-order batsmen missed their way, but Shahzad ensured a platform which Gulbodin Naib* built on with two sixes off the last two balls.

Dawlat Zadran bowled William Porterfield first ball, but that had reassuring echoes of the win over England in Bangalore and Irish fans saw it as an omen. Ed Joyce played some gorgeous shots before he chipped to midwicket.

Stirling continued to flay the ball to all parts, making the second-fastest half-century in Twenty20 internationals, off just 17 balls, only behind Yuvraj Singh's 12 balls of mayhem against England in 2007. His 357 runs, at an average of 44.62, was the best of the tournament. He played some audacious shots, notably a front-front hit for six over third man. Ireland had a couple more hiccups, when Kevin O'Brien was out the ball following Stirling's dismissal. Wilson fell for 32 with three runs needed, but Andrew Poynter kept his head and the trophy was secured with seven balls to spare.

Qualifying for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka was the main aim for Ireland here, but with the ICC offices less than 200 metres away, they took the opportunity to show how far they are ahead of their fellow Associates, against whom they have won 30 out of their last 33 games, two of the defeats by four runs. Ireland will be grouped with Australia and West Indies in the World Twenty20 in September.

Ireland are perhaps too strong at their current level but what the ICC needs to be convinced of is if they can compete at the top tier. The recently-articulated ambition of playing Tests can only be achieved with regular wins over Full members.

This campaign started with defeat to seventh-ranked Namibia, but Ireland often start slowly. Needing to win nine games in a row to qualify, they achieved their goal with little drama barring one tight game against Italy.

The campaign needed near-perfect marshalling of resources, with their leading T20 batsman Niall O'Brien suspended beforehand, and allrounders Alex Cusack and John Mooney invalided out.

That meant fringe players needed to step up, and Phil Simmons can have no complaints on that score. Gary Wilson had a brilliant run with the bat and kept wickets tidily, but it was the array of bowling talent that ensured Ireland's passage, even with the loss of Cusack and Mooney.

Johnston and Rankin could always be relied upon to make an early breakthrough, five times taking a first-over wicket. Rankin has improved since joining the England set-up and there are real concerns that he might win a national call-up there. Johnston has spent much of the past year nursing his knee, and the eventual operation left him on crutches for the winter. But he improved as the event progressed and his match-winning dismissal of the two top Namibians yesterday crowned his tournament, likely to be his last at Associate level.

But before that, he has one last hit at the big boys, and will relish taking on the land of his birth (Australia).

*March 24, 2012, 21:30 GMT - The report earlier mentioned that Nabi had hit the sixes. It has been corrected.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Johnathon on March 26, 2012, 17:15 GMT

    Afghanistan really missing out on Hamid Hasan

  • Dummy4 on March 26, 2012, 7:01 GMT

    yes . these teams needs more chances to prove themselves..they are playing only ICC touranaments . icc need give them more matches with test sides

  • Andrew on March 26, 2012, 2:15 GMT

    I've said it before, I think the ICC have done well in recent years to improve the quality/clarity of the pathway for non-test nations. I think they learned a bit from Kenya withering on the vine, & Bangladesh being too ripe when coming into the test arena. Surely, for the time being at least, Ireland AND Afghanistan, should be included in the FTP, whereby they get at least 10 games a year against top tier nations? I know that the ICC would probably be a little cautious as it has taken some time for Bangladesh to bear any fruit. However, if you think about it, Bangladesh making the finals only 12 years after test status is not a bad development. Most nations have taken a lot longer to get competitive than that. 12 years is barely even ONE cricket generation. I am pro-test status for Ireland & am close to the same for Aghans. I would have their schedules lined up with the lower performing nations with no 3+ test series, just one offs or against Zim & Banga, 2-test series @ home.

  • Andrew on March 26, 2012, 2:07 GMT

    Was going for PNG, but this was the most likely scenario. What really gets up my nose, is that we have a rankings system which places Ireland in T20s ABOVE WIndies & Zimbabwe in 8th place, yet they are not one of the automatic qualifiers. This is plain dumb, why have T20 rankings if they don't line up with qualification for the World Cup? Even Afghanistan as an Affiliate is ranked above Zimbabwe. Not wanting to knock Zimbabwe, we all now the upheavals they have gone thru, but they honestly do not deserve pre-qualifying ahead of Afghanistan & Ireland. The T20 W/Cup qualifications should of had 12 pre-qualified teams & then this tournament would pick the next two best. For the T20 w/cup, my 2nd side I'll be going for is Afghanistan. == == == As for test status for Ireland, I think they are currently better equipped to perform at test level than Bangladesh were 12 yrs ago. Whether that is good enough, dunno. I think they currently would be more consistant than the Bangas were.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2012, 21:24 GMT

    Congratulations to Ireland and Afghanistan, two very worthy finalists and qualifiers! They both need only to do what they've already been doing and better things will just keep on coming. Yes progress is very slow but a cricketing culture (and success on the field) cannot simply be implanted, it must be grown, steadily but surely. The continued improvement is there to see, keep it going! On another note i was very pleased to see such a strong Namibian performance, particularly encouraging was that it came from younger players. You could only put this down to their inclusion in the South African domestic competitions, an inclusion which must be applauded and continued. I see them drawing level with Afghanistan and Ireland in the near future. Not much to say about the other teams other than that Kenya seems to have a couple of bright youngsters amongst them and i hope they find a few more, African cricket has quite a bright future, i'd reckon.. cheers

  • John on March 25, 2012, 19:50 GMT

    Indeed , congratulations to both sides

  • Luke on March 25, 2012, 12:52 GMT

    Ireland and Afghanistan need to be playing more higher level cricket over all 3 forms of the game. Including Test matches. Now. What is there to lose? They will be better than South Africa and West Indies of the 1930's, Sri Lanka of the early 1980's and Bangladesh of the 2000's. And so what if they aren't?? Grow the game ICC, it's not all about Indian money!!

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2012, 12:15 GMT

    Watch Out Test Playing Nations, Ireland & Afghanistan will give a run for your money in the forthcoming T20 WC.

  • Liam on March 25, 2012, 10:56 GMT

    Congrats to Ireland on winning, I'm Australian but I've been following their fortunes since 2006 (like a lot others I guess) and really hope they are the next Test nation one day. Also congrats to Afghanistan for qualifying once again, was a very entertaining match and they complete deserve another WC chance. A couple of points, Alam's send off of Wilson rather out of line. And I'm glad van Schoor won that award and had a chance to vent his dissapointment at not making the WC in front of the ICC personel. The ICC should be ashamed for reducing the World Cup to 12 teams. Also, I was watching on ESPNStar, do any Irish fans out there know who that lovely blonde girl in crowd they kept focussing on is?!

  • Cricket Fan on March 25, 2012, 8:00 GMT

    Thanks for ESPN to watch the game in Online. I am really happy to see the game especially the batting of PAUL STIRLING (NEXT SACHIN TENDULKAR). His shots are classic. If Eoin Morgan plays for IRELAND, IRELAND BECOME 7th or 8th Ranking in International Cricket. Also I congratulate AFGHANISTAN, They are specials. They have cricket blood. Soon they will beat almost all Test Nations. I have request to ICC, please allow them to play with TEST nations.

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