Namibia turned their dream into reality on Sharjah’s greyish, baked-mud-looking surface on Friday with a perfectly-paced chase of Ireland’s 125 for eight, winning by eight wickets with nine deliveries to spare and booking their place in the tournament proper.
Then Sri Lanka executed a clinical dissection of the Netherlands to finish top of Group B and move into Group 1 of the main event alongside Bangladesh, while Namibia will join fellow-Associates Scotland in Group 2.
The encounter between Ireland and Namibia was a game of four halves, with Ireland winning the powerplays and their opponents dominating everything else.
After Andrew Balbirnie had won the toss and elected to bat, openers Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien rattled up 55 in the first six overs to put Namibia onto the back foot. But once Stirling had fallen to Bernard Scholtz, well caught by Loftie-Eaton at long on for a 24-ball 38 and O’Brien had followed in Jan Frylinck’s next over for 25, the bowlers steadily took control.
Adjusting to the nature of the Sharjah pitch, so different from those in Abu Dhabi, they denied the Irish batters any real momentum, and so effective was their control that only 31 runs came from Ireland’s last six overs for the loss of six wickets, the last four producing a mere 24.
David Wiese bowled Gareth Delany with a delivery which jagged back alarmingly, and then Frylinck picked up Balbirnie and Curtis Campher in a single over to finish with three for 21 and leave Ireland reeling on 104 for five with three overs left.
Any doubts about the Irish middle order proved fully justified, and by the close of their innings the side had gone from 61 for none to 125 for eight in the space of 13 superb overs of Namibian discipline.
But 125 at Sharjah is worth quite a bit more in many other places, and Zane Green and Craig Williams were accused by the wiseacres of having painted their side into a corner when they ended their powerplay on a fairly disappointing 27 for one, not quite half what Ireland had managed in the corresponding phase.
At 49 for one at the halfway mark things still seemed to be going Ireland’s way with 77 now needed from 60 deliveries, but skipper Gerhard Erasmus was settling in. When Green was removed by Campher in the 14th over, he was joined by Wiese for what proved to be the decisive partnership. Ireland, moreover, were handicapped by the loss of the injured Mark Adair after he had bowled ten deliveries.
Having played the match-winning knock against the Dutch on Wednesday Wiese promptly smacked back-to-back sixes off Craig Young, and that 16-run over (in the course of which Young clipped Erasmus’s off stump without dislodging a bail) turned the game crucially in Namibia’s favour.
The required rate was now little more than a run a ball, but Erasmus hammered Simi Singh back over his head for a glorious six, and halfway through the penultimate over Wiese lofted Young over cover for the winning boundary to cue the sort of celebrations we only see when an Associate defeats a Full member.
With 28 from 14 deliveries to go with his two for 22 Wiese was declared Player of the Match, although he rightly observed that it should have gone to Erasmus for his beautifully-judged 49-ball 53. There is no DRS for Player of the Match awards.
After all that excitement came the news that the iconic Ryan ten Doeschate would not be in the Dutch side against Sri Lanka, having announced his retirement in the course of the morning.
Whether this typically self-effacing decision made any difference to the debacle which followed is a matter of opinion, but as it was Ten Doeschate could only sit and watch as the Netherlands’ batting imploded to 44 all out in exactly ten overs.
Their cause was not helped by another first-over run-out, this time of their leading run-scorer Max O’Dowd, looking for an impossible single to Dasun Shanaka at mid-off. Thereafter the batters were utterly at sea against the extra pace of Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara, the latter taking three for 7 in three overs, and the slow bowling variations of Maheesh Theeksana (two for 3 in one over) and Wanindu Hasaranga (three for 9 in three).
Only Colin Ackermann, who started this time in a higher gear and hit a six and a four before succumbing to Hasaranga, was able to reach double figures, while Scott Edwards survived the longest at 28 deliveries.
Dutch sides have collapsed against quality spin bowling before, and doubtless will do so again, but this abject performance capped a deeply disappointing week for Ryan Campbell’s side, one which should give rise to some serious thinking about its underlying causes. They do not include the unquestioned commitment of the players and coaching staff, or the captaincy of Pieter Seelaar, who has led the side well and borne it all with great dignity.
To the side’s credit they defended their meagre total as well as anyone could expect, and they were rewarded with wickets for Brandon Glover and Paul van Meekeren – the latter playing his first game of the week – before Avishka Fernando hit the winning run off the first ball of the eighth over, Kusal Perera finishing with a composed 24-ball 33 not out.
There will be some work to do before they face South Africa in a Super League series at Centurion in five weeks’ time.
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