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A toast to the Irish spirit

A month to the day after the dramatic tie that set in motion this quite remarkable Irish odyssey, they produced one more standout performance

 Trent Johnston celebrates the comprehensive win with Kyle McCallan and John Mooney , Bangladesh v Ireland, Super Eights, Barbados, April 15, 2007

Trent Johnston: "It's the best all-round performance we've had in the four years I've been with this team"  •  Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

After heavy defeats to New Zealand and Australia, there was a real danger that an Irish campaign that had contributed so much to an otherwise unremarkable World Cup might fizzle out. But a month to the day after the dramatic tie that set in motion this quite remarkable Irish odyssey, they produced one more standout performance, dismissing a hugely disappointing Bangladesh side in convincing fashion.
After the 91-run debacle on Friday, the minnow-bashers had a field day and Trent Johnston, the Irish captain, admitted that the barbs had served as a big motivational tool ahead of a match that he termed "the mini World Cup". "People were saying a lot of things, and it was important that we bounce back after such a disappointing show against Australia," he said, having contributed 30 brisk runs and two key wickets to the cause. "We've played one good game since beating Pakistan. We're aware of that. A lot of people have spent a lot to come over and watch us play two games. We wanted to put on a show for them."
Johnston also helped his side out at the toss, calling correctly for a change and then watching his opening chisel out an impressive 92-run partnership. New-ball bowlers from England and Australia feasted on the extra bounce at the Kensington Oval, but Bangladesh's pairing of Mashrafe Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain, a late replacement for Syed Rasel, didn't have anything like the same impact.
"It was tough and tricky out there," Johnston said. "They set the platform." William Porterfield, who hadn't kicked on after getting starts in several games, put things right today with a composed 85, an innings that will surely help when he heads for trials with Gloucestershire after the World Cup.
"It was something we spoke about," Porterfield said when asked how it felt to end a run of disastrous starts. "I really enjoyed batting with Jeremy [Bray]. There was some extra bounce, more than what we're used to." After a string of single-digit scores in the Super Eights, Bray played his part with a sedate 31, but it was Porterfield who set the stage for a late onslaught that fetched 77 from the last ten overs.
Having done the hard yards with the bat, Ireland were outstanding in the field, with Boyd Rankin's ability to extract steepling bounce complemented by a tidy and probing spell from Dave Langford-Smith. The support cast was no less impressive. Andrè Botha showed what was missed against Australia and New Zealand, while Kyle McCallan produced another outstanding spell to take his tournament tally to ten wickets at 23.3 and a remarkable economy rate of 3.97.
"He's first-class, and has played 170-odd games for Ireland," Johnston said. "He's the best spinner we have, and my go-to man. He ends up with one or two wickets for 40 no matter what quality of batsman he's up against. You also have to mention the men in the circle, but Kyle's been outstanding this World Cup."
Ireland's cause was helped by some cavalier Bangladeshi batting, and Johnston's canny bowling changes merely hastened the slide to defeat. "We knew they were going to come at us hard, and give chances," he said. "We took those chances. It's the best all-round performance we've had in the four years I've been with this team."
With one more game to come against Sri Lanka on Wednesday, Johnston suggested that celebrations might be on the mild side on Sunday night. "We'll maybe have a couple of quiet ales," he said with a grin. "After the Sri Lanka game though, as the coach likes to say, we'll tie the dogs loose." This time he laughed.
Johnston didn't want to look too far ahead when asked about what realistic expectations people might have of Irish cricket. "Beat Sri Lanka on Wednesday," he said with a chuckle. "We're not looking too far ahead. There's a new coach coming in, and he might want to clean the old boys out." After this campaign it is unlikely.
For Adrian Birrell, whose five-year tenure ends on Wednesday, this was another triumph to savour. "I'm proud of what we've achieved," he said. "Five years ago, we were ranked below Denmark, so this is very satisfying for me."
The crowd played their part yet again, and there was good banter going on with the many Indian and Pakistani fans who had made the journey despite the failure of their sides to make it as far as what was anticipated to be a marquee clash. "The applause we got from the Indian and Pakistani fans was great," Johnston said. "The West Indian people have been fantastic wherever we've played, and it was a great spectacle out there today."
Birrell will hope that there's one more farewell gift in the offing against the mighty Sri Lanka, but even if there isn't, he leaves behind a legacy that Phil Simmons will find hard to match. "I'm looking forward to Wednesday, it's my last day at work," Birrell said with a smile. "It's been a long, enjoyable and satisfying journey." Those of us who've been fortunate enough to follow around this team of thoroughly likeable characters, and their fantastic fans, will echo that sentiment.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo