Hobart, March 7:
Ireland snatched a thrilling five-run win from the jaws of defeat when they beat Zimbabwe in a Pool B match to keep alive their chances of qualifying for the World Cup quarter-finals.
Two brilliant innings from Ed Joyce (112) and Andy Balbirnie (97) guided Ireland to a mammoth 331/8 at the Bellerive Oval here on Saturday. In reply, Brendan Taylor (121) played a captain’s knock with the assistance of Sean Williams (96) to leave Zimbabwe needing just seven runs of the last over with two wickets in hand.
However, Ireland picked both the wickets in the first three balls of the last over to claim the second victory over a Test playing nation in this World Cup, having beaten the West Indies earlier.
Chasing a mammoth target of 332, Zimbabwe were tottering at 74/4 in the 17th over when wicketkeeper-batsman Taylor and Williams struck a magical 149-run fifth-wicket partnership to not just steady their ship but also give themselves a strong chance.
Taylor’s blistering 91-ball knock, his seventh One-Day International (ODI) century, also included 11 boundaries and four huge sixes. He also became the joint highest century maker for Zimbabwe, equalling Alastair Campbell.
Though Taylor got out with the score at 223 in the 38th over, Williams still kept going to help his side reach the 300-run mark. It looked like the left-hander would go on to score his maiden ODI hundred and help his side to victory. But he got out in controversial fashion with the score at 300/6 in the 47th over.
Just when it was looking that Zimbabwe would snatch a fantastic victory with Williams at the helm, the 28-year-old smashed a Kevin O’Brien (2/90) delivery only to be caught by John Mooney right at the edge of the deep mid-wicket boundary.
However, reviews showed that Mooney’s foot might have touched the boundary line but the third umpire ruled in favour of Ireland which proved to be the turning point. The African side received another jolt when they lost another wicket to go eight down in 47.4 overs.
With 26 required from two overs and eight wickets down, it looked like Ireland would come out on top but 19 runs from Kevin’s 49th over changed the scenario with Zimbabwe needing a mere seven off the last over.
However, Alex Cusack (4/32) proved to be the hero for the Irish as two wickets in his first three deliveries handed the minnows an incredible triumph. Pacer Cusack was the pick of the bowlers, scalping four wickets with a brilliant economy rate of 3.36.
Earlier, asked to bat, man-of-the-match Joyce scored his third century while Balbirnie smashed a quick-fire 97 off 79 deliveries.
Ireland started poorly, losing opener Paul Stirling (10) early in the third over. Captain William Porterfield stuck it out in the middle to score a patient 29 off 61 but eventually gifted his wicket to left-arm spinner Williams (3/72) with Ireland at 79 in the 21st over.
Thereon, a brilliant 138-run third-wicket stand between Joyce and Balbirnie gave the Irish the platform to put up a big total. Joyce stroked nine beautiful boundaries and three sixes in his 103-ball knock while Balbirnie hammered his second ODI half-century which included seven fours and four huge sixes.
Right-hander Balbirnie had a super chance of scoring his maiden hundred in his 15th ODI but was run out while trying to accelerate on the first ball of the last over.
Kevin (24) and wicketkeeper-batsman Gary Wilson (25) also played important cameos at the fag end of the innings to take Ireland to the highest total by an Associate team in World Cups.
The Zimbabwean bowlers looked totally unimpressive though Tendai Chatara (3-61) and Williams picked up three wickets each.
Brief scores: Ireland 331/8 in 50 overs (Ed Joyce 112, Andy Balbirnie 97; Tendai Chatara 3-61, Sean Williams 3-72) vs Zimbabwe 326 all out in 49.3 overs (Brendan Taylor 121, Sean Williams 96; Alex Cusack 4/32). IANS