Based on the results between the two sides at the last three World Twenty20 Qualifiers, Ireland were likely salivating at the prospect of taking on USA at Stormont.
In 2010, Niall O'Brien produced his career-best T20 score of 84 off 50 balls as Ireland passed 200 for the first time in their T20 history before reducing USA to 25 for 6 in a 78-run romp. In 2012, his brother Kevin got out of a lengthy scoring rut after his 2011 World Cup heroics against England by smacking 47 off 36 balls ahead of Boyd Rankin's career-best T20 figures of 4 for 9 in a 64-run win. Last year, William Porterfield's T20 career-best 127 not out in a total of 216 for 3 set up a 75-run win.
It should be no surprise that Andy Balbirnie kept up the tradition of career-bests against USA on Sunday. The young batsman's 44 is the highest score in his brief 12-match T20 career. However, he was dropped twice in his innings, on 13 and 23. It allowed Balbirnie to stay at the crease where along with Stuart Thompson and later John Mooney, he carried Ireland from a precarious position of 92 for 5 one ball into the 16th over to a much more comfortable end score of 146 for 6.
USA captain Muhammad Ghous lauded his bowling unit for their performance over the first 15 overs of the match. It was by far USA's best effort in their four encounters with Ireland at the qualifier, but Ghous and his team-mates were left to rue what might have been had they not let Ireland get away in the final five overs.
"Overall the bowlers bowled really excellent but the last five overs, that's where we gave up the game," Ghous told ESPNcricinfo after the match. "Our bowlers bowled four or five no balls and it can cost you and take pressure off batsmen. The guys tried their best. These guys just played really good shots, shots you can't set fields to, paddle sweeps. They just played better cricket in the last five overs."
Ghous tried to encourage his team-mates as they walked off the field, shouting to them, "146 is nothing guys. Come on we can do this." However, after John Mooney had struck four of the seven deliveries he faced to the boundary in an unbeaten 20 off seven balls, most USA players had their heads down, the last two overs at the forefront of their minds instead of the excellent work they did over the first 15
USA's penchant for alarming collapses wouldn't have been too far back in their minds either and they knew that 130 was the maximum they could afford to give Ireland. Their batting form held true again as a panicky display in the middle of the innings saw them lose two wickets to run-outs in the space of five deliveries, and four wickets in eight balls to go from a hopeful 74 for 4 in the 12th over to a hopeless 81 for 8 after 13. After repeated denials by his team-mates earlier on the tour, Ghous finally admitted the team lacked adequate preparation to take on teams like Ireland.
"Everybody lives in different parts of the USA, so it's very tough for all of us to get together," Ghous said. "We do lack some experience and preparation but we are here and we have to give our 100% best. Whatever we have, we have to put out there.
"Experience does matter. These guys are all young. We don't play as much cricket on the higher level. We have one or two tournaments in a year. The more you play better cricket, that's where you gain experience. It will come by playing more tournaments."
As for his own role in the team, Ghous defended his decision to underbowl himself against Ireland. He took the new ball for one over, but only bowled one more for the rest of the game to finish with figures of 0 for 15, and he has yet to take a wicket in the tournament.
"These wickets suit medium-pacers," Ghous said. "Even Ireland, Dockrell came and only bowled one over [sic two]. That's their main frontline spinner. It's not necessary I have to bowl four overs. I will come and squeeze runs where I can if I see an opportunity. I have enough bowlers that I can mix around. Me bowling all four overs is not necessary as long as the team is doing great and other people can come and chip in."
USA's next game is against Namibia at Stormont on Monday morning and Ghous remains hopeful that the team will be able to rally back from a pair of hard losses.
"We should have restricted [Ireland] to 130 but things happen and that's cricket. Things can't always go your way. The positive I'll take is that the guys are bowling great so hopefully they'll keep it that way. We'll come tomorrow hard and restrict Namibia to even lower than that. We're gonna play hard and positive. This is a long tournament. Anything is possible."