Ireland look to bow out on a high
Ireland's incredible World Cup journey comes to a conclusion in Grenada, when they take on the tournament's mystery men, Sri Lanka, whose controversial selection policy resulted in a thumping defeat in their last match against Australia
Trent Johnston: "There have been a lot of high points - the way we fought back against Zimbabwe to get us going, and then obviously Pakistan was huge on St Patrick's Day"
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Ireland's incredible World Cup journey comes to a conclusion in Grenada, when they take on the tournament's mystery men, Sri Lanka, whose controversial selection policy resulted in a thumping defeat in their last match against Australia. But for the Irish, victory or defeat is immaterial. They have already beaten Pakistan and Bangladesh, and tied with Zimbabwe, in a six-week campaign that has exceeded their wildest expectations. They'll be flying home with their heads held high regardless of Wednesday's result.
"We'll just go out there as we've said all tournament and try to play the best game we can," Ireland's captain, Trent Johnston, said. "If we can do exactly the same as we did against Bangladesh we'll be delighted. I think that's the best one-day performance we've put together, in all three disciplines."
"There have been a lot of high points - the way we fought back against Zimbabwe to get us going, and then obviously Pakistan was huge on St Patrick's Day. But we've been strong in two of the three areas right throughout the tournament but not put all three together until Bangladesh. That's our goal, and if we can reproduce that we are going to be competitive."
Ireland, who beat Bangladesh by 74 runs
on Sunday, have one final target in their sights, and thanks to that win it is a very realistic proposition. "We didn't turn up here to come eighth," Johnston said. His team is currently perched in seventh place on the Super Eights table
, equal on points with Bangladesh but fractionally ahead on net run-rate. A narrow defeat coupled with a heavier loss by the Bangladeshis in their final match against West Indies later this week, and that aim could be achieved.
"There's been a lot of talk about us targeting the Bangladesh game," Johnston said, "but there have been a couple of other games we could have snuck away with a victory. We've backed ourselves and the cricketing world can see that from the way we played against Bangladesh. We're going to come out here and play with the exact same level of intensity and a smile on our face like we have all tournament."
It could be an emotional occasion on several levels, not least because the match is the last for Ireland's South African coach, Adrian Birrell. After five years in charge, he is standing down, although he is set to stay on in Ireland since his wife works there. "We're going to give him one hell of a send-off," Johnston promised. "Every team we've played against has put their full-strength side against us, which is a credit to the way we've played our cricket in this tournament."
"It's a feeling of sadness, in one way," Birrell said. "It's been a long journey, and an enjoyable one. And a satisfying one. It's about to come to an end. But I'm ready for that end as well. I probably will be quite emotional, being the person I am, but it means a lot to me, and I think people will forgive me for being emotional.
"It's mainly a sense of great pride that I've achieved what I've achieved. I've said before many times in my career that I've felt I've under-achieved as a player and a coach - and never really got the just rewards. But I think now cricket has paid me my dues. That is the way I really feel."
For a team of amateurs, most of whom have had to take extended time off work to take part in this stage, the strains of competing with fully-fledged professionals were beginning to show. "There's a bit of a virus going around in the camp, and I know a few of the boys are struggling," Johnston said. "We've been away from home since January 7, and it's been a massive four months for us, so a few of the guys are looking forward to getting home to a bit of reality.
"But one thing we wanted to do here was put Irish cricket on the map, not just in the world but in Ireland itself. I think we've done that, and the public response back home has been fantastic." It will be nothing compared to the reception at the airport, when the team touches down at the end of their journey this week.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo