A magnificent performance from Ireland, and an innings of real class from their wicketkeeper, Niall O'Brien, sent Pakistan crashing out of the World Cup. Barring the unlikely prospect of Zimbabwe producing a major upset of their own, Ireland, in their first World Cup, are through to the Super Eights. What a St Patrick's Day it has been.
Chasing 133 on a difficult pitch, with conditions assisting Pakistan's bowlers, O'Brien led Ireland's response with a superb fifty which appeared to be easing his side home until a rain break, and Duckworth-Lewis, altered the required total - and his momentum.
On the resumption O'Brien attacked, crashing Iftikhar Anjum for a sumptuous cover drive and, shortly afterwards, smacking Shoaib Malik over his head for a huge, authoritative six, seemingly dampening Pakistan's hopes. But his resolve weakened when he attempted a repeat shot and was smartly stumped, cueing an Ireland collapse of 3 for 5 in seven balls to really lift Pakistan. The gloom persisted and, with the ever-present threat of rain in the air, Pakistan were never out of the game.
Out went one O'Brien, in came another: Niall's brother, Kevin, who showed the same dogged tenacity as his sibling, nudging a determined 16 to record Ireland's first win in a World Cup, and the biggest upset in years. Pakistan trudged off in the gloom, airport-bound, despondent and shell-shocked. Losing to West Indies was regrettable enough, but to Ireland? The repercussions could be messy.
O'Brien's innings began with a relative flurry of boundaries - off an angry Mohammad Sami and a rather more placid Umar Gul - before dropping anchor, absorbing the pressure and deadening Pakistan's potency. He came to the crease after Sami had removed Jeremy Bray - Ireland's hero in their memorable tie against Zimbabwe two days ago - and a nervous Eoin Morgan, both trapped in front. Batting was not easy.
Sami was hostile but O'Brien's resolve, not to mention ability, was up to the task - as was William Porterfield. A natural aggressor, he slunk into cautious defence - the situation required as such - before Mohammad Hafeez's clever arm-ball induced a thick inside edge. 62 for 3 then became 70 for 4 owing to a worryingly poor error in judgement from the umpire Brian Jerling when he gave Andre Botha out, caught by Hafeez at short-leg when he quite clearly hadn't touched it. The batsman's horror was matched only by Hafeez's surprise.
If the bowling was under par, it was the performance of their batsmen which really cost them the match. Reckless against West Indies in their opening match, today they struggled against the moving ball on a seamer-friendly surface. True, Ireland won a good toss; yes, the pitch was made for Ireland's wobblers. But Pakistan's much vaunted lineup were complacent, impatient and inexcusably careless. Dave Langford-Smith got the ball rolling with an early wicket, but it was Boyd Rankin - the tournament's tallest bowler at 6 foot 7 - who really caused problems, gaining steepling bounce and accounting for Younis Khan, Pakistan's pivotal No.3.
Imran Nazir was determined to counterattack and did so with Mohammad Yousuf in a steadying, calming partnership of 41 before Trent Johnston brought himself into the attack. Yet Yousuf, usually so nerveless, slapped him straight to backward point to leave Pakistan wobbling on 56 for 3. In came Inzamam-ul-Haq, the man who thrives (and often succeeds) in a crisis - but he too was troubled by the moving ball and edged Botha to Eoin Morgan's right who took a fine catch. Was the unthinkable happening?
Kamran Akmal was the only Pakistan batsman to show the necessary application - that alone tells a story - before he was caught, quite brilliantly, by Johnston diving (and winding himself in the process) at midwicket. With each wicket, Ireland's fielding intensity rose. They were dynamic and near faultless.
Labelled as minnows, underdogs, and chirpy hopefuls before the tournament begun, Ireland's performance here was as much a poke in the eye to the detractors who argue against Associates playing at this level. The Ireland coach, Adrian Birrell, said before today's game that all the pressure would be on Pakistan. It showed, too. With Bangladesh upsetting India, it was a day of banana skins.