Graham Ford's experienced side head to the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe with plenty of confidence and on the back of good form.
Ireland head into the tournament full of confidence that they can reach a fourth ICC Cricket World Cup. Graham Ford's team boasts a wealth of experience and arrive in Zimbabwe on a run of form which promises a great deal.
Ireland booked their spot at the the World Cup Qualifier as a result of being placed 12th in the ICC ODI Championship.
15 February – Beat Northerns/Easterns XI by 91 runs
18 February – Beat Netherlands by 5 wickets
20 February – No result with Scotland (rain)
23 February – Beat Hong Kong by 3 runs
ICC CWCQ Group A
Papua New Guinea
United Arab Emirates
4 March – Netherlands, Old Hararians Sports Club, Harare
6 March – Papua New Guinea, Harare Sports Club, Harare
10 March – West Indies, Harare Sports Club, Harare
12 March – United Arab Emirates, Old Hararians Sports Club, Harare
Squad: Will Portfield (capt), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien (wk), Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Gary Wilson (wk)
"We're a pretty balanced side, which gives us great confidence going into the tournament," said Ireland captain Will Porterfield. "Whether it's our seam attack, our batting, or the spin department, we have the bases fairly well covered."
Porterfield is joined by consistent run-getters and English county cricket stalwarts Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Gary Wilson and the O'Brien brothers in the batting department. Stirling smashed 156 from 128 balls in a warm-up fixture against Hong Kong on 23 February to remind Ireland's opponents of his destructive capabilities. The Middlesex batsman is a powerful strokemaker, capable of hitting over the in-field in the Powerplay, dominating the spinners with the sweep and keen to take on anything short.
But it's arguably the bowling attack which excites the most. The towering paceman Boyd Rankin will spearhead their bowling unit, while in Barry McCarthy they have a seamer who is in-from and very much on the rise. Meanwhile, Tim Murtagh's mastery of swing, George Dockrell's canny left-arm spin and Stirling's useful part-time off-spin give Porterfield plenty of options.
When Ford's experience as coach is factored in, the Irish certainly look a strong side on paper. Through his time with South Africa and Sri Lanka, Ford knows all about World Cups and his expertise and know-how will be a real plus for Ireland.
Ireland will begin their campaign against the Netherlands in Harare on 4 March before taking on Papua New Guinea two days later. Their third match is, according to the rankings, the most difficult, with heavyweights West Indies scheduled for 10 March before the last group game against the United Arab Emirates.
Ireland beat the Netherlands by five wickets in a warm-up on 18 January, with Rankin taking 4/38 and Andrew Balbirnie scoring 97, so they will be confident they have the better of the Dutch. The West Indies are of course another proposition, but don't rule out Ireland topping Group A to go into the Super Sixes full of confidence.
Cricket World Cup history
Ireland have a proud history at World Cups, having competed at three editions – 2007, 2011 and 2015. Overall, they have played 21 matches, won seven, tied one and lost 13, but their record doesn't tell half of the story.
On their debut in the West Indies in 2007 the then-Associate nation shocked onlookers. Put in a group with the hosts, Pakistan and Zimbabwe they were given little chance, but after a tie against Zimbabwe they stunned Pakistan to qualify in second position. Although they finished bottom of the Super Eights, they beat Bangladesh to finish a memorable first tournament.
At the 2011 World Cup in India they produced again, chasing 327 to beat England in Bangalore. Kevin O'Brien's superb 113, which included 13 fours and six sixes, set the tournament alight. They also beat the Netherlands before bowing out.
Having set a precedent for shocks, Ireland returned in 2015 to beat the West Indies, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe, only narrowly missing out on qualification for the next stage on net-run-rate.
What needs to go right for Ireland to qualify?
The experienced players need to stand up and be counted. A 2-1 ODI series win over Afghanistan in December showed Ireland remain a force to be reckoned with and their form since then has only added to their confidence.
Although containing a few younger faces, Ireland's side is built around players who have seen it and done it. Runs from the likes of Porterfield, Stirling, Balbirnie and Joyce are a must, while pacy, aggressive wicket-taking spells from Rankin and McCarthy will be needed up front.
If everything clicks, as their recent form and warm-up matches suggest, then Ireland have a strong chance of finishing as one of the top two sides in Zimbabwe.
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