After breaking a six-match winless streak in T20s against Namibia on Tuesday, Ireland booked their place in the knockout stage of the Desert T20 Tournament, disposing off UAE in emphatic fashion. Their 24-run victory in Dubai on Wednesday was their first in T20 internationals since February 2016, also against the same opponents. While the hosts have been knocked out of their own event before the semi-final stage, Ireland will now join Afghanistan in the next round.
The margin hid how overmatched UAE were. Paul Stirling and Stuart Poynter got Ireland off to a rapid start, reaching 35 in four overs with Stirling doing most of the damage. However, UAE didn't do themselves any favours in the field, missing a handful of chances beginning in the second over. Amjad Javed could have had both openers out in the space of four balls, but chances at point (off Poynter) and cover (Stirling) were grassed.
UAE drew level in the second four-over passage of play as Amjad claimed both Poynter and William Porterfield while Stirling survived a missed stumping off Imran Haider before being bowled by the legspinner for 39, with Ireland 52 for 3 in the eighth over. However, UAE couldn't maintain momentum and a missed run-out chance, with Gary Wilson yet to face a ball, was their last crack at staying even.
Wilson and Kevin O'Brien targeted Haider for straight sixes in the 12th over while O'Brien took on left-arm spinner Ahmed Raza in the following over for two more, over long-off and extra cover. The pair added 53 for the fourth wicket and Andy McBrine (14 not out off 13 balls) hit two late boundaries, one coming off a poor misfield at third man, to lift Ireland to 160. UAE's interim coach Owais Shah said later that the score was 20 runs more than Ireland should have had, a result of UAE's sloppy fielding effort.
Ireland's bowlers, particularly Boyd Rankin, then stampeded over UAE, reducing them to 21 for 5 by the fourth over, and wiping out the hosts' chances of a semi-final spot. The match was mathematically out of reach after the fourth ball of the 19th over, though Javed hit three sixes off Stirling in the final over to make the result look more competitive.
Despite giving away close to two dozen more than they should have in the field, UAE's batting performances against Afghanistan and Namibia suggested they could give Ireland stiff competition. Rankin, who sat out the previous match with a mild back complaint, made sure they never got going, though, taking three wickets inside the Powerplay.
The wreckage began on the first ball of the chase when he beat Rohan Mustafa for pace on an attempted leg-side flick to win an lbw decision. New man Shaiman Anwar, the tournament's leading run-scorer, charged and hit Rankin for four in the same over, as UAE tried to counterattack. But Craig Young claimed Shaiman at the start of the second over and, with UAE's middle-order star gone, Rankin made further inroads.
Two balls into his second over, Rankin bounced Ghulam Shabber, who gave a catch to George Dockrell at deep square leg. On a pitch offering noticeably more bounce and carry than in Abu Dhabi, Porterfield positioned himself as a second catching fielder at gully and, on the next ball, Rankin went short again. Rameez's back foot punch was guided to the Ireland captain to put Rankin on a hat-trick. Rankin had looked out of rhythm against Afghanistan on the first night of the tournament but when his gears are in sync, there are few Associate bowlers who can match his menacing ensemble of height, pace and bounce.
Docking station on the boundary
Dockrell may have fallen back in the Ireland spin-bowling queue over the last 18 months, with the emergence of Andy McBrine and Jacob Mulder, but his stock value in the fielding market continues to have a buyer's rating. Porterfield may be Ireland's ace inside in the ring, but there are few more reliable boundary patrolmen than Dockrell.
On the catch to remove Shabber for Rankin's second wicket, Dockrell came further in from the rope in a slight misjudgement, but his athleticism ensured he was able to make a leaping recovery and snag the catch with two hands. In the 16th over, he took a more orthodox path, jogging in from the midwicket boundary to pouch a catch off Mulder's bowling.
Perhaps his most telling moment was on the last ball of the 17th over. Amjad slogged O'Brien between deep midwicket and wide long-on. The score was 94 for 7 with UAE needing an unlikely 67 off 19 balls to win. Some players would have been content to ease off and save their energy for another day but Dockrell hared to his right before leaping in the air to cut a sure six into a single. If Ireland's fielders are still buzzing in a moment like that, there's a good chance they'll be full-on swarming come their semi-final on Friday.