Ireland on course to beat Hong Kong
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
Ireland will be relying on some help from above at Stormont as they bid to complete a fourth straight victory in this year's Intercontinental Cup.
A rain-interrupted third day saw only 51 overs bowled which was enough to give the holders a lead of 278 to take into the final day, but the Ireland players will be praying for a dry Friday as they may need all 104 overs to finish off Hong Kong.
The visitors batted for almost 102 overs in their first innings but it will be a major disappointment if Ireland take nearly as long to bowl them out a second time on a wearing pitch albeit with, no disrespect to Paul Stirling, only one specialist spinner.
Ireland's best chance of victory could be to give their opponents a tantalising victory target because, as they have already proved in this match, most of their batsmen have a solid defence.
Only after the fourth of six rain breaks yesterday did Ireland try to increase the tempo, coinciding with the arrival of Stirling at the fall of the third wicket.
He punched his first ball through the covers, pulled his sixth to long leg but, two balls later, he chased a wide one and edged it through to the keeper.
John Anderson had already maintained his record of scoring a 50 in every I-Cup match but he failed to reach 60 as he too joined the chase for quick runs, mistiming a pull and giving a simple catch, only a few yards from the bat.
Gary Wilson hit consecutive fours off Nadeem Ahmed who was not nearly as effective as in the first innings - Ireland's much more positive approach against the slow left armer paying dividends - but his innings was cut short by a leg before decision which left him surprised.
Kevin O'Brien, as good a hitter as anyone in the team on his day, is still there to resume this morning when quick runs will surely be the order of the day.
The stop-start nature of the day was reflected in the action, the bowlers unable to find their rhythm and the batsmen never feeling 'in'.
It was no coincidence that that the highest partnership, 53 for the first wicket between William Porterfield and Ed Joyce, was the only one not interrupted by rain, although that ended in unusual circumstances, a good short ball hitting Joyce on the arm and forcing him to drop his bat onto the stumps - the first Ireland batsman to be dismissed hit wicket since Joyce himself, facing Boyd Rankin in the England ODI at Malahide in 2013.
Meanwhile, North Down leg spinner Jacob Mulder was last night called into the Ireland squad for next week's Twenty20 internationals against Hong Kong at Bready.
Mulder is the third uncapped player, joining the Pembroke pair of Josh Little and Lorcan Tucker, and replaces Barry McCarthy who has been retained by Durham for their county championship match against Yorkshire, starting on Sunday.
McCarthy was left out of the current Ireland line-up but was immediately recalled by Durham and the county have first call on his services next week.
Mulder last night took one for 27 in his four overs as CI beat North Down by seven wickets, chasing 136 in their Premier League game at Belmont.