Ireland 165/7 (20 overs) (Gareth Delany 47, Andy McBrine 36; Bilal Khan 3-23) defeat Oman 109 a.o. (18.3 overs) (Shoaib Khan 30; Simi Singh 2-30) by 56 runs.
Before the tournament, the word coming from the Irish camp was that they would have to scrap their way to World Cup qualification. They knew that they had struggled in the T20 format for a while now, and that they would have to battle just to find some way, any way of wining three games and book their ticket to Australia next October.
In the end, it was somewhat of a procession as a comfortable 56 run victory over qualifying tournament hosts Oman secured this Irish side a place in the next iteration of the T20 World Cup.
"I think our determination got us there today" explained captain Andrew Balbirnie after the win. "We knew at the start of the week we needed to win three games, and we've got better every match - and that's what you need to do in tournament cricket.
“Our T20 cricket has been inconsistent, and to win three matches in a row we knew we’d have to be at our best - we managed to do that, and that was probably our best all-round performance.”
That point made by the skipper is crucial; Ireland peaked after a solid run of games under their belt, seven in all now on this tour. If ever there was a reminder of the importance of regular, high quality games for the T20 fortunes of this side, this was it.
Victory over Oman hinged on two decisions made by Balbirnie, both somewhat bold, one definitely more so than the other.
The first was to give spinner Simi Singh one over in the powerplay with the field still up. This is something that Ireland had done before in the qualifying tournament, but needless to say it can always backfire.
The second, definitively more risky move was to bowl Josh Little’s third over as early as in the 11th of the innings. One would think he would be needed at the death, especially since Ireland have struggled at times there in this tournament.
Both decisions made the captain look very good. Singh removed Jatinder Singh with the first ball of his spell - albeit via a shocking LBW decision since the ball clearly hit him outside off - while the extra pace of Little yielded two nicks in the same over which Lorcan Tucker snaffled gladly behind the stumps.
The end result of this passage was Oman sitting on 69/4 with nine overs left needing to score at over 10 an over to reach the target. Balbirnie went for the kill early and it worked; Oman never even got close.
Earlier in the day, the Irish had the worst powerplay of their tournament as both Balbirnie and Paul Stirling departed without significant contributions - a nightmare start given how important the openers are to Ireland’s batting effort.
What followed was arguably the most pleasing aspect of Ireland's win, the fact that two youngsters who followed the openers combined not only to rebuild, but put the side firmly in the ascendancy. Harry Tector, who is in stellar form in the 50 over game, answered any questions about his T20 credentials with a fluid knock including maximums over square leg and mid off, while Gareth Delany top scored with 47. His three long bombs in as many balls over the leg side was a particularly brutal takedown of Zeeshan Maqsood; the Oman skipper was hit out of the attack after just one over.
The one gripe would be that neither of the two set men kicked on to take Ireland to a mammoth score. Both departed in the space of seven balls, sandwiching the dismissal of Lorcan Tucker, leaving Ireland in danger of blowing the good platform having lost five wickets with still just under seven overs remaining.
George Dockrell added two boundaries before departing but the undoubted plaudits at the death go to Andy McBrine. Ireland’s sole left-hander, he was a good match-up against Aamir Kaleem’s left-arm spin in the 18th. Given McBrine’s recent success against the West Indies left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein, it was a bizarre decision from Maqsood to bowl Kaleem when he turned the ball into McBrine; the Donemana man made a mockery of the decision, taking 14 off the over including a beautiful first ball maximum straight into the sight screen.
Ireland looked to just about have reached par at 165/7 at the end of their innings, but it was a case of having runs on the board in a crucial knockout game. The total looked even better after yet another economical powerplay with the ball as Oman were restricted to 37/2, Singh and Mark Adair taking the two wickets.
Shoaib Khan and Maqsood threatened to build a partnership, albeit without keeping up with the asking rate as they put on 31 off the next four overs. As much as they were set, they were not finding regular boundaries, a fact that made Balbirnie’s decision to go back to Little particularly aggressive.
Once the move paid off though, Ireland never looked back. Young, player of the match McBrine and Singh all picked up two more wickets each, the end coming when Tector pulled off a stunning piece of fielding to throw the ball back to Adair before falling over the rope.
Ireland progress to the final of the qualifying tournament where they take on the UAE, a side they have now lost four consecutive matches against. The players will say they want to end the campaign on a high, but regardless of the result, they will fly home dreaming of another World Cup appearance.