Namibia 126 for 2 (Erasmus 53*, Wiese 28*, Campher 2-14) beat Ireland 125 for 8 (Stirling 38, O'Brien 25, Frylinck 3-21) by eight wickets
Gerhard Erasmus' anchoring half-century and David Wiese's whirlwind 28* off 14 balls steered Namibia into the Super 12s of the 2021 T20 World Cup. This eight-wicket win over Ireland also meant Namibia have booked their spot in next year's edition as well, which will be played in Australia.
Batting first in a virtual knockout, Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien laid the foundation by adding 62 in 7.2 overs but the incoming batters failed to capitalise on that. Ireland were 55 for 0 at the end of the powerplay but could score only 70 in the next 14 overs. Apart from their top three, no one else reached the double figures.
Given the sluggish nature of the Sharjah pitch, a target of 126 wasn't an easy one, especially with Namibia playing a batter short. They could manage only 27 for 1 in the powerplay, and needed 49 off 36 balls at one point. Wiese then smashed back-to-back sixes off Craig Young in the 15th over to bring the asking rate down.
With 19 required off 17 balls, Erasmus, who had hit only two fours in his first 44 balls, skipped down the track to Simi Singh and launched him for a straight six. That all but sealed the game for Namibia. When Wiese hit the winning boundary, there were still nine balls left in the game.
Stirling, O'Brien give Ireland brisk start
It took Stirling and O'Brien a couple of overs to get used to the pace and bounce of the pitch but once they did that, boundaries came frequently. Stirling was the more aggressive of the two but he gained better rewards when he focused on timing and placement than power.
In the third over of the innings, he punched JJ Smit over long-on for a six before hitting three fours off left-arm spinner Bernard Scholtz in the next over.
O'Brien, who was 9 off 12 balls at one stage, took a leaf out of Stirling's book and struck two fours off Jan Frylinck in the sixth over to bring up the fifty stand. Stirling and O'Brien now have 13 stands of 50 or more in T20Is, the most by any pair.
Scholtz eventually ended the opening stand when Stirling holed out to long-on for a 24-ball 38. In the next over, O'Brien (25 off 24) picked out deep square leg off Frylinck to leave the side 67 for 2.
The Sharjah slowdown
As was the case during IPL 2021, scoring runs became difficult once the ball softened and the field spread out. The first six overs of Ireland's innings featured seven fours and a six; the next six had just one four.
Andy Balbirnie struggled for timing on a slowing track. He was on 5 when Aleem Dar denied an lbw appeal off Pikky Ya France. Namibia chose not to review it but replays showed Balbirnie was lucky to survive.
The reprieve, however, didn't hurt Namibia much. Their seamers kept peppering the good length in the line of the stumps and kept the Ireland batters quiet.
Wiese put Gareth Delany out of his misery by castling him with a slower ball in the 15th over. Two overs later, Frylinck dismissed Balbirnie and Curtis Campher to jolt Ireland further as the innings petered out.
Ireland win the powerplay battle
In IPL 2021, nine out of ten games in Sharjah were won by the team that scored more runs in the powerplay. That should have been extra incentive for Namibia to go hard in the first six overs. But even with the Ireland seamers missing their lines and lengths every now and then, Craig Williams and Zane Green failed to take advantage of the field restrictions.
When Campher started the sixth over, Namibia were 25 for 0. The first ball of the over was right in the slot for Williams, who tried to go over mid-on but couldn't get the desired elevation. O'Brien, right at the edge of the circle, timed his jump to perfection to hold on to an overhead catch. Namibia ended the powerplay with just 27 on the board, 28 fewer than what Ireland had managed.
No luck for the Irish
It was all going according to plan for Ireland. But a couple of incidents in the seventh over, bowled by Mark Adair, proved to be decisive in the end. With his third ball, Adair pinged Erasmus on the pads but umpire Chris Brown ignored the lbw appeal. Ireland chose not to review it but replays showed Erasmus was out. The Namibia captain was on 2 at that time.
After the ball, Adair looked in discomfort with what looked like a side strain. He could bowl only one more delivery in the over before walking off the field. His absence would come to haunt Ireland in the death overs.
In the 15th over, with Erasmus on 32, Young breached his defence and the ball brushed the off stump on its way to the wicketkeeper. But the bails didn't come off.
Erasmus, Wiese take Namibia into Super 12s
Green and Erasmus kept chipping at the target with ones and twos. In fact, Namibia didn't score a single boundary between overs 8 and 12. With the required rate crossing eight, Erasmus ended the drought with two fours off Josh Little in the 13th over.
In the next over, Campher and O'Brien combined once again to send Green back, and that brought Wiese to the crease, with Namibia needing 53 off 40 balls.
While Erasmus held one end, Wiese took the attack to the bowlers and turned the game in Namibia's favour. With Adair still off the field, Balbirnie had to use Simi in the 18th over, which produced 12 runs. With nine needed from 12 balls, Erasmus lofted Young over extra cover to bring up his half-century off 48 balls. Two balls later, Wiese wrapped up the game.