Ireland cricketers’ hopes of making the ICC World Twenty20 tournament suffered an early blow with defeat to Namibia in Dubai.
The Africans won by four runs in the opening Group B game of the 16-team associate and affiliate qualifying tournament in the United Arab Emirates. Only two associate teams qualify for the tournament in Sri Lanka in September, where they will join the 10 Test-playing countries in a 12-team competition.
The Irish have reached the past two ICC World Twenty20s, in England in 2009 and the West Indies in 2010. The loss to Namibia is a setback rather than disaster for Phil Simmons’ team, who have another six group games to earn themselves one of three play-off places.
The defeat undoubtedly makes qualification harder for Ireland though, as the teams that top each of the two groups only then need to win one more game to book their tickets to Sri Lanka. If Ireland are forced into the play-offs, they face three tough sudden-death games to progress.
Simmons had warned of complacency before the game, predicting that the Namibians would be “the most dangerous side in the tournament”.
The Trinidadian’s message did not seem to get through to his players, as Namibia reached 160 for 8 in their 20 overs.
Opener Raymond van Schoor made a run-a-ball 31, with number three Louis van der Westhuizen contributing 34 off 16 balls.
Paul Stirling was the pick of the bowlers with 3-20 from his four overs, with fellow spinner George Dockrell taking 3-30.
The crucial over in the game was the fourth of the Namibian innings, with van der Westhuizen hitting John Mooney’s first three balls for 16. Trent Johnston then dropped the 23-year-old on the fourth ball, and Ireland were made to pay as the talented left-hander hit a third six off the final delivery.
Needing eight an over in reply, Ireland lost the crucial wicket of Stirling in the first over, and although Kevin O’Brien contributed a quickfire 20 from 14 balls, it looked an uphill task at 65-5 when Ed Joyce was dismissed in the 11th over. Mooney, relieved at the opportunity of atoning for his earlier bowling horror, came to the wicket to join Gary Wilson, and the duo set about the Namibian attack.
The pair put on 71 in seven overs before Wilson departed for 49, but when Christy Viljoen conceded only five runs in a superb 19th over, it left Ireland needing 18 off the final six balls. Mooney hit six runs off the first two deliveries, but any hopes of a famous comeback were extinguished when the North County all-rounder was run out off the third ball by van Schoor for 38.
Ireland lost their opening qualifying game to Afghanistan in Dubai two years’ ago before going on to qualify for the finals, and Wilson insists history can repeat itself.
“We like to make it hard for ourselves. We lost the first match last time but we usually work things out in the end and hopefully it happens again,” he said.
Simmons acknowledges the need for a significant improvement when Ireland face Kenya in the second Group B game this morning.
He said: “We are a better bowling team than we showed. It is a matter of going back and looking at the things we didn’t do well and making sure we are as relaxed as we can be for this game.”
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