Having secured qualification for the 2015 World Cup without a hint of fuss as well as lifting the ICC World Cricket League trophy, Ireland have firmly consolidated their position as the prominent force in the associate nation game. But, if they are to achieve their coveted goal of Test status in the near future then they must now underline their ability to dominate with the red ball on top of their limited-overs supremacy.
Phil Simmons’ side are now under an increasingly large microscope as their quest to join the top table of world cricket gathers rapid pace and are expected to win every game, no matter which players take to the field. With a host of their big-name stars back on county duty, this week’s ICC Intercontinental Cup clash with Scotland in Dublin will provide the Irish with the perfect opportunity to showcase their strength in depth.
With a place in December’s four-day final already guaranteed, Ireland have now got their eyes on a rare Associate nation treble and a clean sweep as they head into a busy end-of-year schedule.
If William Porterfield’s charges can defend their World Twenty20 Qualifier crown in November and claim their fourth Intercontinental Cup a month later, they will achieve the extraordinary distinction of winning the three Associate nation tournaments in the same season.
In contrast, Scotland have plenty of work to do if they are to join their Celtic neighbours in December’s Dubai final - nothing less than victory in Clontarf will do for the Scots who will be devoid of all confidence after a dispiriting seven days.
Their hopes of automatic qualification for Australia/New Zealand were cruelly dashed at the weekend as they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the first of their must-win WCL double-headers against Ireland which was then followed by a comprehensive defeat on Sunday in Belfast by the same opponents.
However, all is not lost for Peter Steindl and his players as they head into this week’s four-day encounter at Clontarf, as they search for a first victory on Irish soil. The game is the start of a pivotal period which could potentially see the 2004 Intercontinental Cup winners qualify for next year’s ICC World Twenty20, compete in the Associate nation showpiece event of the year and then book their place in the 2015 World Cup.
While their record against Ireland in all formats leaves a lot to be desired, the visitors have a fighting chance of claiming the 20 points they need to overtake Afghanistan in the standings as the 2011-13 Intercontinental Cup reaches its conclusion.
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Players to Watch
All eyes will be on William Porterfield as he tries to arrest a woeful run of form with the bat in the longer-format ahead of Warwickshire’s final two County Championship fixtures. The left-hander is averaging just 14 for the Bears this season and is in danger of not having his Edgbaston contract renewed at the end of the year.
However, the Irish captain seems to have returned to the form which helped Warwickshire lift the Championship last season with back-to-back fifties against Kent and Netherlands in the Yorkshire Bank 40 before scoring a superb century against England last week.
With a host of promising young players coming through the ranks, the future is looking increasingly bright for Scottish cricket but Peter Steindl and the selectors will be all too aware of initial potential failing to materialise.
One such case is that of Richie Berrington who broke onto the international stage as an 18-year-old but has since struggled to make regular contributions. However, recent performances suggest he’s maturing as a player and he has fond memories of playing against Ireland having hit the winning runs on his international debut. The pitch and overhead conditions will suit his medium-pace bowling while the South-African born all-rounder is averaging 46.50 in the Intercontinental Cup this term.
The hosts are devoid of the majority of their first-choice side who are likely to line-up in December’s final but it gives the chance for some of their up and coming players to stake their claim on the international stage.
Nevertheless, Phil Simmons has the added bonus of having captain William Porterfield and fellow opener Paul Stirling while Andrew Balbirnie, who has recently signed a contract with Middlesex, will add further strength to the batting order.
John Mooney, who was named in the original 14-man squad, will have to watch from the boundary after being ruled out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury while fast-bowling duo Craig Young and Graeme McCarter of Sussex and Gloucestershire respectively could play in the absence of Johnston and Murtagh.
Ireland (possible): 1 William Porterfield (capt) 2 Paul Stirling 3 John Anderson 4 Andrew Balbirnie 5 Andrew White 6 Kevin O’Brien 7 Stuart Poynter (w/k) 8 Eddie Richardson 9 Max Sorensen 10 Craig Young 11 Graeme McCarter
Much like their opponents, Scotland have been weakened by the absence of their county-based players with Matt Machan, Rob Taylor and David Murphy all recalled for the latest round of Championship fixtures by their respective clubs.
Veteran all-rounder Neil Carter is also missing but the absence which will be felt most is that of captain Kyle Coetzer.
The Northants batsman missed the weekend’s ODIs with a wrist injury and while there was hope he would be fit to play, Coetzer has failed to recover in time. Preston Mommsen will continue to skipper the side in his absence while Yorkshire seamer Iain Wardlaw adds much needed experience to an otherwise youthful looking outfit.
Scotland (possible) 1 Freddie Coleman 2 Hamish Gardiner 3 Craig Wallace (w/k) 4 Richie Berrington 5 Preston Mommsen (capt) 6 Callum Macleod 7 Alasdair Evans 8 Moneeb Iqbal 9 Majid Haq 10 Gordon Goudie 11 Iain Wardlaw
Pitch and Conditions
As so often is the case in Ireland, the players and officials will be nervously looking skywards during the four-days in Clontarf. With the pleasant summer conditions making way for rather fresh autumnal temperatures, showers are predicted throughout the duration of the game but shouldn’t be significant enough to prevent a positive result.
In terms of the pitch, the Castle Avenue surface has historically benefited the bowlers but recent games at the North Dublin venue have yielded plenty of runs, proving it’s not just a bowlers paradise.
"Every time we take to the field, we like to win and this will not change in the ICC Intercontinental Cup. If we can win the two tournaments and complete a treble, then I’ll be a very happy man because it will be a good reward for all the hard work and effort we have put in as a group."
"We have played some good cricket over the two matches, but unfortunately, although our batsmen have got starts, nobody was able to go on and make the big score that was needed. We have played a lot of good cricket over this tournament, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough."
Date and Time: September 11-14, 10.30am BST
Venue: Clontarf, Dublin
Umpires: Richard Smith and Johan Cloete
© Cricket World 2013