Ireland breathing down Kenya?s neck after victory over UAE

Tue, Mar 11, 2008 12:55 PM

Defending champion Ireland is now within 17 points of leader Kenya at the top of the ICC Intercontinental Cup following its nine-wicket win over the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi this week.

The Irish have one game in hand over Steve Tikolo's team and are in a strong position to reach the final for the third time in a row, having won this competition on the previous two occasions.

While Trent Johnston began the game in his usual role as skipper, an injury forced him off the field and it was the new vice-captain William Porterfield who took on the job of leading the side.

"It was a very proud moment for me stepping over the line with the team," said Porterfield (23). "It's always been an aspiration of mine to captain Ireland, and now it has come true."

Things did not go all according to plan for Ireland on day four of the match at Sheikh Zayed Stadium as UAE captain Saqib Ali kept the champion at bay with a wonderful rearguard knock of 195.

"We went out this morning hoping to wrap things up in the first session," said Porterfield. "But it proved to be that bit tougher than we perhaps expected. Saqib batted really well and made things difficult for us. We stuck to our task and dug in, and eventually got our rewards.

"Thankfully, when (leg-spinner) Greg Thompson came on he did the business and got us two wickets in two balls? We always knew once we got one, the second and third would follow but we didn't expect to get two in two balls. We knew if we kept pegging away that we'd get there. To get 20 wickets on this great track is a fine testimony to our attack," he said.

Earlier in the match, Ireland's wicketkeeper-batsman Niall O'Brien stroked 174 to make sure his team reached 474 and secure a huge lead after the first innings.

The UAE needed 246 runs just to make Ireland bat again and thanks to Saqib's knock, the ignominy of an innings defeat was averted. And Ireland coach Phil Simmons was clearly a relieved man after seeing his side take longer than expected to collect the 20 points on offer.

"The main thing was to win the game and we achieved that. It was a good test for us ahead of our series in Bangladesh. It's good for the bowlers to get overs under their belts out in the middle and we'll benefit from this tough test by the UAE," he said.

Simmons had a special word of praise for Saqib after his marathon innings.

"I thought it was a quite exceptional effort on his part," said the former West Indies all-rounder. "The amount of bowling he had to face as he protected the tail was incredible. He fully deserved a double hundred, but I don't like 200s being scored against us so I am not too upset."

While Ireland is going well in the ICC Intercontinental Cup again this year, it has a tricky schedule of matches ahead of it with just one home game from its remaining four fixtures. Trips to Namibia, Kenya and the Netherlands are scheduled and in August it will host the side it beat in last year's final, Canada.

For the UAE, things are not looking so bright. Having played six matches, Saqib's men have just one fixture remaining ? against the Netherlands in Sharjah Stadium from 3 to 6 April ? and there is now no chance of them getting through to November's final.

It's not all negative though because along with Saqib's fine batting there was also the all-round performances of Ahmed Raza and Sameer Zia to make sure the UAE still has plenty to glean from this year's campaign.

The ICC Intercontinental Cup has quickly grown in stature and profile since its inception three years ago and now the ICC's premier first-class tournament is an integral part of the Associate Members' cricket schedule.

Having previously been designed around a two-group, three-day format, the event has evolved into an eight-team, round-robin and truly global tournament featuring four-day cricket which gives those teams who do not play Test cricket the chance to experience the longer form of the game.

Scotland won the first ICC Intercontinental Cup in 2004, beating Canada in the final, while Ireland has been victorious in both events since then, beating Kenya in the 2005 decider and Canada in the 2006-07 event.

The final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2007-08 will take place in November 2008 in the United Arab Emirates.

ICC Intercontinental Cup table (as of 10 March)

Team P WO WI D LI LO T Points

Kenya 4 3 4 - - 1 - 66

Ireland 3 2 3 1 - - - 49

Namibia 3 3 1 - 2 - - 48

Netherlands 3 2 1 - 2 1 - 34

Canada 4 1 2 - 2 3 - 26

Scotland 3 1 1 2 1 - - 26

UAE 6 1 1 1 4 4 - 23

Bermuda 4 0 1 - 3 4 - 6

WO - outright win - 14 points

WI - lead on first innings (also retained if outright loss) - 6 points

LI - behind on first innings - 0 points

LO - outright loss - 0 points

TO - outright tie - 7 points each

TI - tie first innings - 3 pts each

D - draw - 3 pts each

Remaining fixtures:

27-30 Mar - Namibia v Netherlands, Windhoek

3-6 Apr - UAE v Netherlands, Sharjah Stadium

4-7 Apr - Namibia v Scotland, Windhoek

4-7 Jul - Canada v Bermuda, Toronto (Maple Leaf)

9-12 Jul - Netherlands v Ireland, Rotterdam (VOC)

10-13 Jul - Bermuda v Scotland, TBC

16-19 Jul - Canada v Scotland, Toronto (Maple Leaf)

6-9 Aug - Ireland v Canada, TBC

7-10 Aug - Scotland v Kenya, Glasgow (Clydesdale CC)

16-19 Aug - Netherlands v Kenya, Amsterdam (VRA CC)

3-6 Sep - Bermuda v Namibia, TBC

5-8 Oct - Namibia v Ireland, TBC

12-15 Oct - Kenya v Ireland, TBC

12-16 Nov ? FINAL, UAE

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