Tuesday 18 December 2018

Old foes Zimbabwe loom again as Ireland chase World Cup spot


Ireland all-rounder Kevin O'Brien. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ireland all-rounder Kevin O'Brien. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Gerard Hughes

Ireland's pathway to next year's World Cup finals in England should be a little clearer after today's first Super Sixes matches but amid all the various permutations one thing is clear: the Boys in Green must beat Zimbabwe tomorrow at the Harare Sports Club.

Qualification is still in Ireland's hands with victories over their hosts, Scotland and Afghanistan ensuring a place in the top two of the Super Sixes, no matter what happens elsewhere.

If the West Indies were to go through the tournament with a 100pc record, continuing with a win today, that would eliminate Afghanistan, then Ireland would only need to beat Zimbabwe and Scotland to secure their place at the 10-team showpiece.

However, Scotland have the chance to steal a march and move three points ahead of their oldest rivals if they see off the United Arab Emirates in today's other game in Bulawayo.

It's all 'ifs' and 'buts' at this stage but if history is any guide then tomorrow's game is likely to be a thriller: Ireland famously tied with Zimbabwe in their first World Cup encounter in Jamaica in 2007 and won by just five runs three years ago in Tasmania.

"It's a must-win game and, yes, it's going to be difficult," all-rounder Kevin O'Brien said.

"Then again they are all against good sides in the Super Sixes and if we can get the two points it will really set us up for the rest of the tournament."

O'Brien enjoyed an unexpected promotion to No 3 in the batting line-up against the United Arab Emirates on Monday.

He was asked to provide quick runs after a record-breaking opening stand from Paul Stirling and William Porterfield and obliged with 50 not out off only 26 balls.

"It's always a healthy sign when the openers put on over 200," he said. "It gives the rest of the team a lift and I was happy with the promotion and being able to help us post a really good score.

"I'd like to think the experience in our squad will play a key role from here on in, but other sides have experience too.

"So we just have to play the cricket we have played over the last 15 games or so and hopefully that sees us get the win."

Ireland are likely to stick with the team that walloped the UAE with Gary Wilson only expected back in Harare on the eve of the game after flying home for the birth of his first child, a boy.

Irish Independent

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