Cricket can be a cruel game sometimes. And thrilling. And tense. And soul-destroying. And wonderfully unpredictable. All at the same time. Ireland's U19 World Cup now lies in tatters, beaten in every game so far in the savage heat and humidity of Sri Lanka. Today they play Namibia to salvage some kind of pride and to set up a show-down with the winners of Scotland and Uganda.

But it so nearly wasn't so bleak. In fact, it was almost promising. Yesterday, they had the chance to beat New Zealand thus registering Ireland's first ever victory over a Test nation at this level. That coupled with their close, four-run defeat to England in the group stages would have made this tournament a more than satisfactory one for a supposed minnow of the world game.

Captain Eoin Morgan led the way in the Premadasa Stadium yesterday. After losing the toss, his magnificent century got the Irish to a huge total of 304 off 50 overs and a win was almost in their grasp. His 124 came off just 122 balls and included 12 fours and three sixes.

What was even more encouraging than Morgan batting well was that unlike during the rest of the tournament, he found partners to bat with. First Fintan McAllister (44) and he put on 88 for the second wicket after Gareth McKee was out early. And then a 160-run partnership with Middlesex club-mate Andrew Poynter gave Ireland a strong grip on the match.

Poynter, who had looked far from convincing in that nerve-jangling defeat to England, was composed and assured as he repeatedly found the gaps for his bigger shots while still managing to rotate the strike comfortably off the better deliveries. His 76 came off 88 balls.

All through Ireland's innings, New Zealand team manager Dayle Hadlee, brother of the legendary Richard and himself veteran of 26 Test matches for the Black Caps, could be heard muttering discontentedly into his laptop from his vantage point in the press box high above the sightscreens at one end. He has not been happy at how the Kiwis have performed here during this competition and as head of the NZ Cricket Academy, he has reason to be concerned. The way his team bowled erratic lines yesterday, giving away no fewer than 34 extras, one would be concerned for the future of the game in the land of the long white cloud.

Mind you, the way his team batted would give less cause for concern. The top order kept the side in the chase although they did let the run-rate sneak above nine per over at one stage. But then Tom Southee came in, despatched the ball to all parts of this fine stadium and won the game in savage style for New Zealand. He hit 92 off just 55 balls, including four fours and six sixes.

Finally they needed five off the final over and a wide and boundary saw to it that New Zealand's blushes were spared as all in the Irish camp collapsed into a heap of exhaustion from the stress of watching it unfold.

It didn't help that Ireland dropped a couple of catches and missed three or four stumpings and at least one run-out but in general Ireland bowled and fielded OK. On another given day Southee would have edged his third ball to the keeper and Ireland would have won by 100 runs. But his luck was in and he rode it spectacularly well.

That's the cruel, thrilling, soul-destroying unpredictability of this wonderful game.