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Ireland win over Scots fuels hopes

By Ian Callender

It was not the complete performance but Ireland's hopes of reaching next year's World Cup finals are alive and hopeful - for another couple of days at least.

A 25-run victory over Scotland in their must-win Super Six qualifying match at the Harare Sports Club puts them within one point of Zimbabwe and the Scots at the top of the table but both teams have still to play West Indies and it is those results which could decide Ireland's fate, even before their last game against Afghanistan on Friday.

But last night's Ireland's Call was, once again, being lustily sung in the changing rooms as Andrew Balbirnie's highest one-day score and a three-wicket burst by Boyd Rankin set up the win.

A total of 271-9 should have been nearer 300 but when Kevin O'Brien was caught at short thirdman with four overs remaining, Ireland could add only another 20 runs without threatening the boundary.

In contrast the Scots, despite being 200-8, hit 46 off the next five overs, including five fours and two sixes, which left Ireland behind West Indies on run-rate - the factor which could separate the teams when the second and last World Cup place is decided.

But, if offered a victory of any size at the start of the day, after William Porterfield had lost the toss, the Ireland squad would have snatched your hand off and for 46 overs their batting response to the aberration against Zimbabwe was exemplary.

Despite the early loss of both openers, Balbirnie and Niall O'Brien, promoted to No 4 after Ed Joyce was ruled out with a swollen knee, then, dominated the next 25 overs without, in the words of Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer, "giving us a sniff".

Balbirnie came to the middle after four single-figure scores but he not only scored his 1,000th ODI run in the innings but also passed 1100 runs with a chanceless century from 140 balls including nine fours.

His only alarm was on 22, when he would have been run out by a direct throw. That missed, but when Craig Wallace didn't, with a throw from mid-wicket after a poor call by O'Brien, it was the senior partner who paid the price on 70, a terrible way to end a record-equalling third wicket stand of 138.

Kevin O'Brien ensured the pace quickened with 46 from 27 balls (five fours and two sixes) as he sped Ireland past 250 and, seemingly, in total control. But a poor shot exposed middle-order and tail as the runs dried up the momentum was with Scotland.

Although Tim Murtagh struck in his fourth over, Coetzer took a liking to the introduction of Boyd Rankin and he struck him for six fours in two overs.

But fast bowlers have long memories and when the 'Big Man' returned with the Scottish skipper still in the middle, it took only six balls to rip through his defence.

It was start of a tremendous second spell, as Scotland crashed from 112-2 to 122-5, and with Simi Singh weaving his spinning fingers at the other end to pick up two wickets, Ireland were back on track to collect two points.

Today it's Zimbabwe v West Indies and a home win is Ireland's favoured result.

Belfast Telegraph

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