It may be a horrible cliché, but you just can't look past the luck of the Irish. When Stuart Matsikenyeri and Brendan Taylor were putting together a 70-run partnership for the sixth wicket, Zimbabwe were in cruise-control mode, but when Kyle McCallan got his hand to a Matsikenyeri drive down the pitch, the complexion of the match changed utterly.
"We didn't have a lot of luck in that period," Trent Johnston, the Irish captain, said when asked if he felt that the game had slipped away by then. "Me and Andre [Botha] tried to squeeze them but we didn't get the wickets, so we went back to Kyle. We got a lucky break there, and that gave us a lifeline. We did our best to throw it away, but we fought back in the last eight to ten overs to give ourselves a chance. To get it back to a tie was outstanding."

As pleased as he was with his team's effort, Johnston, who was schooled in Australian cricket's heartland of New South Wales, was the first to admit that there was plenty of room for improvement. "We didn't do very well in the field," he said. "We didn't bowl well upfront and they got off to a flyer. We bowled too many four-balls and gave Stuart [Matsikenyeri] a couple of chances. The run-out chance was when he'd made only five or something. World-class teams take those chances and that's what we'll learn from this game."

With the fans chanting themselves hoarse and dancing like there was no tomorrow, support was one thing that the Irish didn't lack. As at the 1990 football World Cup, when Jack Charlton's team were inspired by the raw passion of those beyond the touchline, here too Johnston and his side drew energy from the frenzied leprechaun and his mates. "It was like there were 12 or 13 players out there," Johnston said. "It felt like there were 20,000 of them inside. The Irish people are quite passionate, and it was high on our agenda to win for them. There were 2,000 people in and I reckon about 1900 of them were Irish."

For him and everyone else connected with the team, the match had been a big step into the unknown. When asked about the initial impressions while sitting in the pavilion, Johnston said: "It was surreal, being there in a World Cup, seeing the supporters going crazy. Of course, it would have been nice to be 0 for 60 after the first hour instead of 4 for 50 or whatever. But it was the experience of a lifetime, and I'm sure it'll only get better in the next two games."

For Prosper Utseya, the Zimbabwe captain, the tie undoubtedly felt like defeat. He had a dazed look on his face after the match, though he was quick to praise Ireland for the stunning late turnaround. "Ireland did well to manage a tie," he said. "All points to them. But our bowling was not up to the mark. We gave too much width to [Jeremy] Bray."

Utseya appeared to be at a loss when asked to make sense of the late capitulation that almost cost them all two points. "The guys fumbled at the end," he said quietly. "There was a lot of tension.

"We dropped too many catches and gave away runs. But we will learn to relax and that will get us through next time." The next game is against the group leaders and hosts, West Indies, but Utseya refused to be too downcast about his team's chances. "We have to go out and give it our best shot," he said. "If we stay positive, who knows what can happen?"

For Adrian Birrell, the Irish coach, the whole experience was "bittersweet". "We played 25% below what we're capable of," he said. "The emotions were up and down, but this is a team that fights all the way."

He was especially happy with the bowling at the denouement, with Andre Botha and Andrew White enticing mistakes even from the well-set Matsikenyeri. "We've come up short in that department previously," he said, referring to some poor displays in the six-nation tournament at Nairobi. "We've worked a lot on our death-overs bowling. Trent also bowled exceptionally in those final stages."

Once the euphoria over a first World-Cup point dies down, Pakistan lie in wait on Saturday, knowing that nothing less than victory will do if they're to progress. Johnston joked that "they might come out and make 500 against us", but he was confident that his squad had the strength to cause one of the great upsets. "If we bowl well up front, who knows?" he said. "We're not particularly worried about their bowling, but we'll have to play out of our skins and they'll need to have an off day."

And who else but the remarkable Bray to have the last word? He positively beamed when told that his batting was reminiscent of Matthew Hayden at times, and admitted that growing up in Australia had undoubtedly helped him come to terms with a pitch that gave the opening bowlers fairly steep bounce. "The guys in the team talk about how I prefer harder, bouncier wickets," he said with a smile. "This one wasn't that quick, but it was quicker than what we usually play on in Ireland. Growing up in Australia, if you can't play the cross-bat shots, you're in trouble. I enjoyed it out there."

That enjoyment was shared by everyone who watched him, and a match that made a little bit of history. And like Johnston said, who knows what might happen against Pakistan? One thing's for sure. The leprechaun and his fellow lucky charms on the other side of the fence will surely bring down the house. After all, Saturday is St. Patrick's Day.