DUBAI, (Reuters) – Ireland batsman Paul Stirling smashed the second fastest fifty ever in Twenty20 internationals as his side were crowned the best of the second-tier teams after winning a pulsating match against Afghanistan by five wickets today.
The two countries had already qualified to join the major teams in September’s ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka but victory for the Irish in the final of the qualifying tournament meant they will avoid holders England in the group stage.
Stirling reached his fifty from just 17 balls, a mark bettered only by the 12-ball half-century made by India’s Yuvraj Singh against England in 2007, as Ireland scored 156-5 to pass Afghanistan’s 152-7 with seven balls to spare.
Stirling ended up with 79 from 38 deliveries in an innings that included nine fours and three sixes as the two sides produced a cracking encounter in front of around 6,000 noisy supporters at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
It was Stirling’s third fifty in four innings in a tournament where Ireland gained revenge for defeat in the previous final between the teams in 2010.
“I’m hitting it alright,” Stirling told reporters. “I started (the tournament) slowly but it was nice to come on at the back-end and help the boys over the line.
“I’m trying to get more consistent as it’s one thing to hit the ball far but it is another thing to be doing it consistently and I hope I can continue in that vein.”
Ireland’s win means they will play alongside Australia and the West Indies in Group B in the opening stage of September’s tournament while Afghanistan will play in Group A against defending champions England and 2007 winners India.
Both countries will receive $250,000 from the International Cricket Council to help them prepare for the event.
Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal paid tribute to Ireland’s effort in defeating his previously unbeaten side after the Europeans had sealed their place in the final and in Sri Lanka by beating Namibia by nine wickets earlier in the day.
“Hats off to Paul Stirling, who destroyed every single plan we set for him,” he said through an interpreter.
“Congratulations to Ireland. They came hard at us, especially in playing their second game in a day, winning both. That was an amazing performance.”