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Ireland cling on to qualification hopes with win over undefeated Scotland

The rub of the green was certainly with Ireland on this St Patrick’s weekend, with Ireland defeating Scotland by 25 runs in a must-win clash in Harare today.

Under cool and overcast Harare skies, Scottish Captain Kyle Coetzer called correctly at the toss and sent Ireland into bat first. Graham Ford’s side had made one change for the match after experienced batsman Ed Joyce picked up a niggling injury and was replaced by all-rounder Simi Singh.

  • A second ODI century in 2018 from Player of the Match Andrew Balbirnie leads Ireland to victory.
  • Great team bowling performance, led by four-wicket hero Boyd Rankin ends Scotland’s undefeated run in the tournament.
  • Tail-end resistance by Scotland pushed for a late victory, but Ireland always held the upper-hand.

Ireland Captain William Porterfield and fellow opener Paul Stirling strode out to the middle to face an in-form Scottish attack. The last time these two teams met, in January 2018, Ireland scored 331-6, their highest total in ODIs. But the Scottish bowling unit had performed well so far in the tournament and had taken ten wickets in each of the four matches they have played

The 21-year old South African-born Brad Wheal struck early, inducing a defensive prod from Stirling which popped up in the air off a slight edge. Wheal dived forward and took the catch, dismissing Stirling without scoring.

Andrew Balbirnie joined his skipper with the score at 1-1, and was soon off the mark with a clip off his pads through midwicket. The shot brought up Balbirnie’s 1,000th career ODI run in his 46th appearance.

Porterfield was playing a circumspect role until the 5th over when a short pitched ball from Wheal saw Porterfield attempt a hook shot, which flew off a top edge and carried all the way over the boundary for six down at long leg.

The pair put on 44 runs in 10.4 overs before Wheal struck again, cramping Porterfield for room and the Ireland captain played the ball on, dismissed for 17 (27 balls; 1 x four, 1 x six).

Niall O’Brien was escalated up the order in place of the missing Joyce, and together with Balbirnie the pair put on a record-equalling 138 run stand for the third wicket.

Balbirnie looked in total control today. The Dublin-born top-order batsman has had a subdued tournament following a 68 in the first match against the Netherlands - but today he banished any doubts about his form with a commanding 105 (146 balls; 10 x fours). Scotland seem to be favoured opponents for Balbirnie, with today’s innings following on from a run of 67 and 47 in two matches against the Scots in January, and a 79 against the same team in a warm-up match earlier this month.

In partnership with O’Brien, Balbirnie surged past fifty with several back-foot punches to the point boundary, but also rode his luck with a mistimed pull shot in the 32nd over that bounced down to fine leg for four off a top edge.

O’Brien’s well-paced innings was the perfect foil, playing aggressively and bringing up his 18th ODI career half-century at nearly a run-a-ball. During his innings O’Brien became the sixth Irish batsman to pass 2,500 career ODI runs in his 99th match, and is the fourth highest run scorer for Ireland in this form of the game. His innings was also the sixth occasion he had passed a half-century against Scotland.

The 100-partnership was achieved soon after, with the pair scoring at more than 5 runs an over, and at the second drinks break, following the 36th over, the pair had the Ireland innings set for a big finish at 177-2.

But soon after the drinks break, a quick attempted single saw O’Brien run out on 70 (70 balls; 9 x fours). The partnership of 138 from 153 balls equalled the highest third wicket stand for Ireland in ODIs (a partnership that Balbirnie also featured in), and was a superb partnership given the state of the match at the time of Porterfield’s dismissal.

Niall O’Brien was replaced with brother Kevin, who set to work immediately, at one stage taking 12 runs off Wheal’s seventh over, including a stunning hook shot over the square leg boundary for six.

Shortly afterwards Balbirnie turned a ball off his pads and completed a single to bring up his second ODI career century, and his second in 2018 (having scored 102 against the UAE in January). However, having moved soon after to 105, Balbirnie missed an attempted reverse-sweep shot from 21-year old left-arm off-spinner Mark Watt and was adjudged leg before wicket.

Simi Singh joined O’Brien at the crease, but 10 runs later the entertaining innings of Kevin O’Brien was over in the 45th over. His 46 off 27 balls (5 x fours, 2 x sixes) was an important contribution, but was out caught, flashing at a ball outside the off-stump.

The last four overs saw Ireland add 20 runs for the loss of four wickets in the attempt to push the scoring on, ending the 50 overs at 271-9.

For Scotland, Wheal was the pick of the bowlers with 3-43 (10 overs), while fellow paceman Safyaan Sharif took 2-52 (10 overs), which saw him achieve 50 wickets in his ODI career.

Needing a run rate of 5.44 runs per over for victory, Scotland started cautiously with wicket keeper-batsman Matthew Cross and Scottish Captain Kyle Coetzer. Cross had just come off a century against the UAE in his last innings, and Coetzer had racked up 213 runs in the tournament at an average of 71.

However 25-year old Cross couldn’t capitalise on a solid start, caught by a reflex two-handed diving catch at first slip by Gary Wilson off Tim Murtagh for 18 (24 balls; 2 x fours). The catch was remarkable for both the speed it was travelling off the bat and that the ball was flying between first slip and keeper.

With Calum MacLeod joining him at the crease, Coetzer went on the counter-attack, taking to Boyd Rankin early, and hit six boundaries off Rankin’s first two overs. His six over deep mid-wicket off Kevin O’Brien in the 11th over was audacious, and he rode his luck when dropped on 41 by Rankin – which would have been a spectacular outfield catch if taken.

MacLeod, who had scored a whirlwind 157* against Afghanistan earlier in the tournament, started slowly, but picked up the pace until on 21 (34 balls; 1 x four, 1 x six) he middled a sweep shot off Simi Singh (2-33 from 10 overs) and was caught in the deep by Balbirnie.

With Richie Berrington joining his skipper, Ireland’s bowlers employed a tight line and began to apply the brakes on scoring. Andy McBrine (0-40, 9 overs) particularly keeping the Scottish batsmen quiet, while Singh settled into a tight line as well.

With pressure mounting, Coetzer tried to re-start the run rate but came unstuck against Rankin (4-63, 9.4 overs), who had returned to the attack. Getting a ball that didn’t bounce as much as he anticipated, Coetzer was clean bowled. Coetzer’s innings of 61 (70 balls; 7 x fours, 1 x six) was well-compiled, but losing him in the 26th over was not what Scotland needed.

Rankin soon had a second victim, George Munsey caught behind by Niall O’Brien for 1, and Scotland had suddenly slumped to 114-4. Rankin has picked up wickets in every match of the tournament to date, and possibly none more important than his first two wickets today, given the nail-biting position Ireland find themselves in.

A second victim became a third a few balls later when Rankin pitched a ball short of a length to new batsman Craig Wallace who backed away and swatted the ball cross-bat straight back to Rankin.

At 122-5 in the 28th over, Scotland must have been well behind the odds, but they still had 27-year old off-spinner Michael Leask to come. Leask had hit 91 from 94 balls against the men in green during a warm-up match earlier in the month, but Captain Porterfield made a tactical switch from pace to spin and re-introduced Singh. There was an almost immediate result as Leask tried to hit Singh over the long on boundary, but instead couldn’t clear Tim Murtagh, who took a comfortable catch.

Berrington was a forlorn figure at the non-strikers end, just looking for a partner to stay in. His hopes were, for a period, answered by seamer Safyaan Sharif. Sharif has scored just 8 runs in his four innings in the tournament to date (including three not outs), but today we swung lustily, scoring 34 (39 balls; 2 x fours, 1 x six) – his highest ODI score.

He and Berrington put on a partnership of 51 runs from 58 balls, but just as the Scots were preparing for a big last 10 overs to push for an unlikely victory, Berrington was bowled by Murtagh.

Murtagh has been excellent throughout the tournament, taking 13 wickets at an average of 16.23 runs apiece. His early bowling today, which included three maidens in his first five overs, helped put pressure on in the early stages of Scotland’s innings and maintained a consistent line throughout to finish with 2-51 from 9 overs.

After losing their ninth wicket on 208, the Scottish side looked all but out of the game requiring 65 more runs.

The Ireland team then had to endure an increasingly uncomfortable time as the tail-enders Mark Watt (31 runs from 19 balls; 2 x fours, 2 x sixes) and Brad Wheal (14 runs from 10 balls; 3 x fours) put on a last wicket stand of 38 runs off 20 balls.

In the end, it was the combination of good line and bounce from Rankin and an excellent diving catch from Niall O’Brien that ended the Scottish resistance on 246. O’Brien’s catch was one of his finest grabs, leaping high to his right to snap up a ball that was flying quickly off Wheal’s bat.

Rankin’s four-wicket haul was his second in this tournament, and he has now claimed 14 wickets at 16.2 runs apiece.

A great all-round performance by Ireland, hitting back from the disappointment of the Zimbabwe game on Friday, keeps Ireland’s slim hopes of qualification alive.

Centurion Andrew Balbirnie said:

"In the last ten we would have liked a bit more, but after the batting performance on Saturday we wanted to put in a solid performance on a pitch that was playing a bit slow."

"I just wanted to start well and stay in. I haven't had a great run so far - I've had a couple of dismissals that weren't like me, but today I had a bit of a rub of the green - St Patrick's weekend and all that. I just managed to kick on and it was great to get a total on the board for the team."

We wanted to turn it around from what happened on Friday. With my innings today I didn't want to be too ambitious at the start, luckily Niall O'Brien came in and played a really good run a ball innings. Kevin then came in and did the same.”

“There's a lot of cricket to be played this week before our game against Afghanistan - we're going to relax, take a few days off and then take on the Afghans. We know them pretty well, there's going to be a lot of results this week, and who knows what is going to be played for on Friday.”

Captain William Porterfield said:

 "I didn't have to say a lot to the team - we knew we had to turn up today and get the two points to stay in the running."

"What was most pleasing was getting back with the bat. To post a total and then go out and defend it was highly pleasing for the team."

"Going into the next match, we obviously need some results to go our way during the week, and if that's in place then we've got to be ready come Friday. We've had a few good tussles with Afghanistan recently, so looking forward to a good game."

The final Super Six Stage game is Ireland v Afghanistan (Fri 23 March). Ireland’s chances are still out of their control, but a win over the Afghans will have the Ireland team well and truly in the final mix.

 MATCH SUMMARY

 IRELAND v SCOTLAND, 50-over match, Harare Sports Centre, Harare

  • Ireland 271-9 (50 overs; A Balbirnie 105, N O’Brien 70, K O’Brien 46; B Wheal 3-43)
  • Scotland 246 all out (K Coetzer 61, R Berrington 44, S Sharif 34; B Rankin 4-63, S Singh 2-33, B McCarthy 2-44, T Murtagh 2-51)

Ireland won by 25 runs.