Ireland’s upsets at the last three World Cup finals will count for nothing over the next three weeks when they face their biggest ever challenge to join the top eight-ranked one-day teams at next year’s finals in England.
Victories over Pakistan in 2007, England, most famously of all, in Bangalore in 2011 and West Indies three years ago may have proven Ireland’s place on the world stage but ICC — and India in particular — still want only 10 teams in their elite competition.
So, for the four Test nations and the six Associate countries involved in the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe, only the two who contest the final on March 25 will play in the 2019 edition.
This time even one of the most famous sides in world cricket, West Indies — winners of the first two World Cup finals — must go through the qualifying process, having finished ninth in the rankings at last September’s cut-off date.
As luck would have it they will be in Group A with Ireland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and UAE while Afghanistan are the No.1 seeds in Group B, along with hosts Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong and Nepal.
Ireland captain William Porterfield, who got his hands on the WCQ trophy for a photo shoot this week, was indifferent about which group Ireland ended up in because he knows if they play to their best, they should comfortably make the Super Six stage when, after four round-robin group matches, the top three will play the top three from the other group.
Points from the games against the other two qualifiers in your group are carried forward into the Super Six, so although every team will have to play all the other main contenders, Irish points won against West Indies and Netherlands could be crucial.
Ireland have beaten both their main group rivals in their previous encounter, although it has been three years since they faced the Windies — their opening World Cup clash in Nelson when they became the first and still only side to chase down over 300 in three World Cup matches.
It’s only 13 days since Ireland last faced Netherlands and while they can take that winning momentum into their opening clash at Old Hararians tomorrow, they will be facing Ryan ten Doeschate for the first time since.
No game is ever a formality but Ireland will expect to beat PNG and UAE. Although the Pacific islanders won the last game against the Irish, it was a T20 and Ireland’s strength should be imposed in the extra 30 overs.
Assuming there are no hiccups, in the Super Six stage Ireland can expect to play, in order, hosts Zimbabwe, Scotland or Hong Kong with a game against their new Test rivals Afghanistan on March 23 possibly deciding which goes to the Finals.
For now, Ireland would be happy with that scenario. Anything better will be an heroic achievement.