If there was any doubt that Ireland might take their foot off the
pedal in an essentially meaningless final, Trent Johnston and his
captain, William Porterfield, ensured they were focussed on the trophy
as they thrashed Canada in the final of the ICC World Cup Qualifiers at
Centurion Park. Johnston, whose nagging seamers cut through Canada with career-best figures, and Porterfield, who made an unbeaten 104, justified Ireland's standing as the No.1
Associate and the team to beat, as they have been all tournament.
With the rest of his squad roaring Ireland's Call, an understandably elated Porterfield was delighted with his and the team's performances. "Obviously we qualified a few days ago, but to
come here and win the final - which was our objective - is absolutely amazing," he told Cricinfo. "And the way we did it was fantastic. I've been feeling in fantastic nick.
"The way we've bowled in the last ten overs, bar today, has been fantastic. We've improved game to game and our fielding has improved, and the first ten overs in our batting has been excellent."
Eighteen days ago Porterfield stamped his and Ireland's mark on the
tournament with a brutal 101 to beat Scotland. A little under three
weeks later, he finished with another beautifully crafted
and dominant innings. Chasing a meagre 186, he and Gary Wilson were
solid and assured, laying down a base on which to launch their chase
later in the innings. Wilson took advantage of anything short - there
was plenty - smiting Henry Osinde over the top for six. He fell for a
well-made 38, spooning to third-man, but Porterfield and Niall O'Brien
then took total command.
Ireland's captain has impressed many in this tournament, not just
through his assured batting but his calm leadership. With O'Brien for
company, he took apart Canada whose fielding regressed from reasonably
proficient to, at times, hopelessly average. A fierce slap past point
brought up Porterfield's fifty from 80 balls and the milestone prompted his
charge against Sunil Dhaniram, who bowled far too short. The firmest
of off-drives brought him a boundary, followed by an elegant pick-up
over long-on as Ireland reduced the chase to nothing more than stroll
in the park against a tired team already thinking of flying home.
Porterfield aside, it was Johnston who really set up Ireland's
convincing win with an outstanding display of swing and seam. His
introduction in the ninth over from the West Lane end completely
turned the match around and, with his sixth ball, he had Rizwan Cheema
edging to Kevin O'Brien at first slip. In his next over, he trapped
Ashish Mulla leg-before with one that skidded through low and Canada
were tottering on 69 for 3 after wasting a positive opening stand.
Alex Cusack kept things tight from the other end, but Johnston was a
persistent threat and found a beauty which cut back on Ian Billcliff
to bowl him through the gate. He then followed it up with two wickets
in consecutive balls to record his first five-wicket haul in ODIs -
and Ireland's best figures - leaving Canada in the hopeless position of
88 for 6.
Ireland were well on top, though Umar Bhatti added 46 to at least help
Canada post a total resembling competitiveness. Nudging singles off
his pads and working the ball cleverly into the gaps at midwicket, he
gradually began to build partnerships, putting on an entertaining
ninth-wicket stand of 51 from 80 deliveries which at least made the total respectable. Ireland, however, came to South Africa
not just to qualify for the World Cup but to get their hands on the
trophy and, when O' Brien hit the winning runs with 7.3 overs to spare, at
last they could truly celebrate their outstanding performance in
Associate cricket's showcase event.
The coaching staff imposed an alcohol ban on the Irish at the start of
the tournament, even randomly breathalysing some of the players.
Suffice to say, tonight's party will be very long, very hard and