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Ireland have no margin for error, admits Wilson

Must-win territory: Ireland captain Gary Wilson wants to see his players step up
Must-win territory: Ireland captain Gary Wilson wants to see his players step up

By Ian Callender

Captain Gary Wilson has conceded that Ireland are in must-win territory if they are to qualify for next year's T20 World Cup, starting with this morning's game against Jersey at the Abu Dhabi Oval.

While defeat won't end Ireland's chances of still being involved in next week's play-off matches in Dubai, it would then take a big win against Nigeria, the weakest team in Group B, to give them any chance of scraping into the top four on run-rate.

But no one can predict any match with confidence, and the shocks continued yesterday - a rest day for Ireland - with the last two 100 per cent records disappearing as Canada surrendered top spot in Ireland's group after defeat by Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea leapfrogged Netherlands in Group A.

It leaves just two points (one win) separating the top six teams in both groups, with only Bermuda and Nigeria definitely out of contention for a play-off place next week. The prize for the group winners is the first two places in the finals in Australia, with the teams second to fourth on Sunday night playing off in Dubai next week for the remaining four places at the finals.

For Ireland, it was never going to be straightforward against teams whose staple diet is T20 cricket, and the Canadian team, which condemned Ireland to their second defeat on Wednesday, have just finished their own Global T20 competition alongside many of the world's best players, so were always going to be difficult opponents.

Yet four wins (out of six) in Group B is now a confirmed route to next week's action and is likely to be enough to win the group, albeit on run-rate. One team with six points will definitely also progress.

Ironically, it is former Ireland captain Trent Johnston, now the coach of Hong Kong, who has given his old side a longer lifeline with back-to-back wins over Jersey on Wednesday night and then, even more impressively, downing Canada by the huge margin in T20 cricket of 38 runs.

Canada would have sealed one of the play-off slots with victory yesterday but are now back in the pack, with Oman having the superior run-rate.

Worryingly, Ireland have the fifth worst run-rate, so the only safe route to the play-offs, which many believed would be a formality for the only Full Member nation involved, is to win their remaining two games.

"Our backs were against the wall against Oman (after losing to UAE) and we came out and played our best cricket, so that's a positive," said skipper Wilson. "But there is no room for error. We are in must-win territory.

"We are a bit up and down at the minute, which is disappointing, but I suppose you get that in T20 cricket and we have a slightly more inexperienced squad than we have been used to. Our big players need to step up."

He could be talking about himself, with a top score of 16 in his last four completed innings, and Kevin O'Brien, who came into the tournament needing 63 runs to reach 2,000 in T20s for Ireland but is still four short.

It has been those inexperienced players stepping up to the mark. Mark Adair, in the words of his captain, "has been outstanding the whole trip", as has David Delany, whose final ball of his second over against Canada was at 92mph, the fastest ever recorded by an Ireland bowler.

Ireland are in a difficult place and only an all-round team effort will get them into next week's play-offs, and that's not something anyone was contemplating this time last week.

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