Scotland will get the opportunity to bounce back from their comprehensive and humiliating defeat to Australia when they face Ireland in their final set of ICC World Cricket League fixtures but know they must win both games at Stormont if they are to keep their automatic qualification hopes for the 2015 World Cup alive.
While Phil Simmons' side have already booked their place in Australia and New Zealand, their opponents' hopes are hanging by a thread and need to pick up the four points on offer to maintain the pressure on Afghanistan and Netherlands in the race for qualification.
The Scots, who were on the end of a 200-run drubbing by Australia on Tuesday, are currently in fourth position on 15 points along with Afghanistan and three behind the Netherlands. Two victories would see them move into second place and knock both Holland and the United Arab Emirates out of the race for automatic qualification.
However, they will come up against an Irish side who have lost just one of their 12 fixtures to date and have a full-strength squad to choose from which includes no fewer than eight county stars. Ireland will be still licking their wounds after a disappointing defeat to near neighbours England on Tuesday and will be determined to get back to winning ways against their Celtic rivals.
Ireland have firmly positioned themselves on top of the Associate nation standings in recent years while the gulf in class between themselves and the others including Scotland has got wider and wider as each year passes.
Tuesday’s One-Day Internationals only underlined this as 10,000 fans packed into the new international venue in Dublin to watch their side give England a probing work-out, and in truth snatch defeat from the jaws of victory while at the same time, Scotland were being run ragged by Australia on front of a much sparser crowd in Edinburgh.
Peter Steindl’s side have only beaten Ireland three times in their 10 ODIs against each other, a worrying statistic heading into this weekend’s do-or-die encounters. Nevertheless, they will be confident of coming away from Belfast with the points they need given the hosts may just take their eye off the ball having already secured qualification but captain William Porterfield is adamant that won’t be the case.
"This is a fresh round of games for us, and we are focused on playing good cricket and finishing the competition strongly. For us, it doesn’t matter that we’ve already won the competition – we will approach these games just like any other," he said.
While Scotland would dearly love qualify for their first World Cup since 2007 automatically, they will be given a second opportunity to reach the ICC’s flagship event even if they fail to finish second.
The bottom six teams of the World Cricket League will go head-to-head for the final two spots in January during a qualifying tournament in New Zealand.
Stand-in captain Peter Mommsen insists spirits are still high within the camp despite the heavy defeat to Australia.
"The guys are still confident, the bowlers are bowling good sets and the batters are hitting the ball well, so it’s all about putting an all-round performance," he said.
"We’re going to have to be savvy against the Irish. The key part of us is our planning and how we approach each individual. We have built up a lot of knowledge of the Irish players and implementing the plans will be key," added the 25-year-old all-rounder.
Eoin Morgan may have ruffled a few feathers by admitting he had spoken to highly-rated batsman Paul Stirling about the possibility of declaring for England in the near future but his admission underlines the talent that the 23-year-old possesses.
Stirling has the ability to dismantle any bowling attack in the world, something he proved when he smashed Pakistan to all corners on his way to a century in May, and will be determined to make up for a quiet season on the domestic front against a less than potent Scotland attack.
The right-handed opener has the ability to take the game away from the opposition in a flash and scored over three hundred runs for Middlesex in the Yorkshire Bank 40 competition this year as well as reaching a career-high ninth in the ICC ODI rankings. The last time the two countries met, the aggressive opener scored a match-winning 113 in Edinburgh.
The Scottish side may not contain the household names and experience which Ireland have at their disposal but in Matt Machan, they have one of the most promising all-rounder’s in the county game. The Brighton-born left-hander has played six ODIs thus far and is averaging 39.83 with the bat and has taken six wickets.
However, it’s not just on the international stage which he’s shining on, Machan has become a regular in the Sussex side thanks to runs and wickets in all formats. The 22-year-old top scored against the Aussies on Tuesday and will be heavily relied upon should Kyle Coetzer fail to recover from a wrist injury.
Phil Simmons has the same 14-man squad who were beaten by England in the RSA Challenge to choose from but could make a couple of changes from Tuesday. Trent Johnston is expected to play in what will be his last games in a green jersey on home soil before he retires while Tim Murtagh, who was the pick of the bowlers in Malahide, may be given a rest ahead of the conclusion to the county season.
All-rounder Eddie Richardson could make his debut after carrying the drinks at Malahide at the expense of his club teammate John Mooney but there would be no surprise if the hosts stick to the same side given the winning formula they’ve established in recent years.
However, the bowling attack has much to prove after a below-par performance against England with Dockrell, Kevin O’Brien, Mooney and Max Sorensen all likely to come under the microscope.
Ireland (probable): William Porterfield (captain), Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Niall O’Brien, Gary Wilson (w/k), Kevin O’Brien, Eddie Richardson, Max Sorensen, Trent Johnston, Tim Murtagh, George Dockrell.
Captain Kyle Coetzer was originally named in the panel who would travel to Belfast but the Northamptonshire batsman missed the game against Australia with a wrist injury and it’s still unclear whether he’ll recover in time to skipper the side at Stormont.
Brisbane-born Hamish Gardiner made his debut during the week and should keep his place at the top of the order alongside promising batsman Freddie Coleman, who has recently broken into the Warwickshire side.
Coleman is one of five county-based players expected to line up for the Scots alongside Machan, David Murphy, Rob Taylor and Yorkshire seamer.
However, veteran all-rounder Neil Carter is unavailable due to work commitments and is replaced by Safayaan Sharif, who has recovered from a side injury sustained during the tour to the UAE in March.
Scotland (probable): Hamish Gardiner, Freddie Coleman, Matt Machan, Preston Mommsen (capyt, Callum Macleod, Richard Berrington, David Murphy (w/k), Majid Haq, Gordon Goudie, Gordon Drummond, Iain Wardlaw.
Pitch and Conditions
With the opening of the new international venue in Malahide, games in the Belfast ground are going to become few and far between with the last One-Day International to take place in Stormont back in May 2012. On that occasion, just 10 overs were bowled as the game with Australia was abandoned because of rain but fortunately the weather forecast is slightly better for the next few days.
A couple of showers are predicted for both match days but heavy rain is forecast for Saturday, meaning there is a danger of a delayed start on Sunday. The pitches at Stormont are usually slow but often benefit both batsmen and bowlers, leading to a very entertaining game.
"We want to keep showing people that Ireland are the leading Associate side and deserve to be in every global event." Ireland captain William Porterfield
"The two matches against Ireland is the real test for us to see where we are; obviously they have been touching ahead in recent years but, we still believe we are strong enough to take them down." Scotland all-rounder Preston Mommsen
© Cricket World 2013
Dates: Friday 6th September & Sunday 8th September, 10.30am BST
Venue: Stormont, Belfast
Umpires: Richard Smith & Johan Cloete