Ireland win World T20 qualifier final
Ireland defeated Afghanistan by five wickets in the final of the World Twenty20 qualifying tournament on Saturday, in a battle between two sides who had already booked their places at the global showpiece in Sri Lanka.
Afghanistan, who had won all eight matches at the qualifiers going into the final, were restricted to 152 for seven off their 20 overs before the Irish reached their target with seven balls to spare.
Ireland will now be placed in the same pool as Australia and the West Indies in the finals, to be played in September and October, while Afghanistan will face defending champions England and India.
The Irish had Paul Stirling to thank for the win, after he hit a 38-ball 79, including nine fours and three sixes, in the process scoring the second-fastest half-century in T20 history.
Man-of-the-match Stirling's effort eclipsed that of Afghanistan wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad, whose 77 off 57 balls included seven fours and two sixes.
Stirling, who ended the tournament as the highest run scorer with 357 in 11 games, ahead of Shahzad in second on 352 in nine, praised Ireland's positive attitude and said the conditions contributed to his blistering knock.
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"Under the lights, the ball came up well. Afghanistan have strong bowling, they've got one of the strongest team attacks in the tournament. The wicket suited my style," he said.
"It was my first time playing under lights and tonight showed that the runs go up when you play later in the day."
Ireland skipper William Porterfield said he was delighted with the tournament victory but warned that the win was just the start of a hard fight ahead.
"It's a long way to go now to the ICC World Twenty20. We're obviously looking forward to it, playing against Australia and the West Indies is going to be a tough task. We've got to keep working hard and improving our skills.
Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal accepted that Stirling was the difference between the sides.
"Our score was good enough. The batters achieved what we planned for, especially getting the wicket of Porterfield on the first ball was good enough start. But the way Stirling played he demolished every plan we had," he said.
"The two best teams played the final. The way they can bat is amazing. We were expecting Ireland to be in the ICC Twenty20 2012, especially as they have played a few more ICC Twenty20s than us. They have more experience than us."
Player of the tournament went to third-place Namibia's Raymond van Schoor, who notched up 324 runs in nine games at an average of 54 and also picked up six wickets.
Ireland hammered Namibia by nine wickets in the preliminary final earlier on Saturday to meet Afghanistan after making just 94-6 off their allotted 20 overs
It was Stirling again who led the run chase, hitting nine fours and a six in an unbeaten, 32-ball 59 to see the Irish home in just 10.1 overs.