The UAE achieved the first goal of their mission to Zimbabwe but their chances of making it to next year’s World Cup suffered a hefty blow on a bittersweet day in Harare.
The national team will advance to the Super Sixes of the World Cup Qualifier and, vitally for the financial health of the game in the emirates, they have now retained one-day international status.
Their progression as the third-placed team in Group A was sealed when the Netherlands, whom UAE had beaten by six wickets four days earlier, lost to West Indies at Harare Sports Club.
However, in suffering their largest ever ODI defeat, against Ireland at Old Hararians, the UAE’s chances of earning one of the two qualifying berths at the 2019 World Cup in England now look limited.
The 226-run defeat was heavier than the 169-run loss to South Africa at the 1996 World Cup. More pressingly, it means they will take no points with them through to the next round, where they will play Scotland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.
When the Super Six phase starts, West Indies will have four points, Scotland and Zimbabwe three – after they tied their final Group B match – and Ireland two, while UAE and Afghanistan will be starting from scratch.
“It [is] a great achievement for us and we will go hard at the Super Six,” Rohan Mustafa, the UAE captain, said. “We will try to beat Afghanistan, who were lucky to make it through to the Super Six, and then Scotland and Zimbabwe.”
The UAE had approached their final pool match with high hopes of notching a rare win against their regular counterparts from Ireland.
However, their ambitions were hindered when Rameez Shahzad was ruled out with tonsillitis. The batsman was not even well enough to leave the team hotel, while the team were hopeful the illness did not spread among them.
What that did mean was there was no longer any conundrum over how to fit both Chirag Suri, the in-form youngster, and Ashfaq Ahmed, the prolific opener who Suri replaced when he was injured, into the same starting XI.
By the time they went out to open the UAE innings, though, there was a mountain to climb because of the savage batting of the Irish top order.
Will Porterfield and Paul Stirling put on 205 for the first wicket in 34 overs, the highest they have managed in the best part of 10 years batting together, and Ireland’s best ever first-wicket stand. Stirling ended with 126, while Porterfield missed out on a third century in six matches against UAE by just eight.
Then Kevin O’Brien blazed a 26-ball half-century as the Irish amassed 313-6 from what had become 44 overs because of two-rain interruptions.
The target was then revised up to 318 on Duckworth-Lewis. The national team’s attempt to haul that in was listless, as they crumbled in the face of Boyd Rankin’s fast-bowling. He ended with 4-15. The eventually tally of 91 was the UAE's lowest in their 42-match ODI history.
“They have won against us so many matches, and from my point of view the guys take a little too much pressure on themselves,” Mustafa said of an Irish side who also beat the UAE twice in Dubai in January.
“They have quite an experienced team, but we are still trying and I hope we can win against them [in the future].”
Ireland were missing a key man of their own. Gary Wilson, their experienced middle-order batsman, had returned home for the birth of his son. His absence was hardly felt, though, and Porterfield was delighted with his side’s formidable display.
“It is a nice feeling [reaching the Super Sixes], walking off following an all-round comfortable performance,” Porterfield said.