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Rankin eager to end on high as Irish seek a stroke of luck

 

By Ian Callender

The weather forecast for Harare today has given Ireland an unexpected lifeline in their bid to reach next year’s World Cup finals.

Following West Indies’ victory over Scotland in yesterday’s Super Six game to clinch their place at England 2019, a Zimbabwe win today over UAE — and they will be hot favourites to do so — would take the second and final qualifying spot at the 10-team World Cup.

But the locals are worried as the forecast is for rain to arrive in early afternoon and persist for the rest of the day. If 20 overs of the second innings are not completed, then the game would be a ‘no result’ and, with no reserve days for rain, Zimbabwe would pick up only one point, taking them to sixth in the table.

The winners of tomorrow’s final Super Six game between Ireland and Afghanistan would then be the second qualifier because they would also move up to six points and, because the number of wins is the first tie-breaker for teams level on points — before net run rate comes into play — either Ireland or Afghanistan would have three wins compared to Zimbabwe’s two.

The forecast for tomorrow is not much better and a ‘no result’ in that game would eliminate both Ireland and Afghanistan, but the Irish camp can only take it one day at a time.

Boyd Rankin, Ireland’s leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 14 — only three players have taken more — confirmed the team is preparing as normal for what could yet be their most important game of the tournament.

“We want to finish the tournament on a high and want to try and win that game on Friday. If things do go our way, it would be great to get to another World Cup — I’ve been to two of the last three — especially as it’s in England and we’d be pretty sure of getting plenty of support. I can’t see me making the one after that,” he laughs.

But the 33-year-old is still enjoying his cricket as much as ever and his performances on the field reflect that.

“I have been pretty happy with my own form for the last three or four months, my rhythm feels good and I’ve been fit for the last year pretty much and that helps. Touch wood I’ll stay fit for the summer with a Test coming up in May and a full season in county cricket.”

However, Rankin knows his days as a professional in England — like the rest of his Ireland team-mates plying their trade there — are numbered.

“If I want to still play for Ireland after this season I become an overseas player in terms of county cricket so this will be my last season at Warwickshire. With so many overseas players available, it has worked against all the Irish players, but there’s plenty of international cricket ahead so there probably won’t be too much opportunity to play county cricket anyway in the years ahead.”

And Rankin insists — much to the delight of the Ireland management and supporters — he believes he has another two or three years in him.

“I feel I’m bowling as well as ever now and it’s just a question of keeping fit and trying to keep going. I would like to stay around for another few years and bring on the younger bowlers and leave Irish cricket in a good state whenever I do retire.”

If results and events go against them in the next 48 hours, however, and another World Cup is not in next year’s fixture list, the prospect of regular Test cricket will keep Rankin going.

“World Cups are massive, you want to play in as many as you can. For the last few months, all our focus has been on the World Cup qualifiers but from next month all our focus will be on the Test match. We then have a number of Twenty20s and they are certainly attracting the crowds around the world but personally, I think Tests are the ultimate test, the hardest form of the game.

As for yesterday’s action, it was a terrible lbw decision by umpire Paul Wilson — and the ICC’s failure to have the Decision Review System (DRS) in use at such an important tournament that has actually cost Scotland their place in the finals.

Wilson gave Scotland top scorer Richie Berrington out, 22 balls before the downpour arrived at the Harare Sports Club, and if DRS had been in use, Scotland would have been only four wickets down. Instead of losing the match by five runs (DRS) they would have won by three runs (DRS) and qualified for the World Cup, leaving the Windies sweating on the action over the next two days.

With Scotland finishing on 125-5 after 35.2 overs, chasing 199 for victory, Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer admitted he was “gutted”.

“The fact that there is no DRS has most certainly cost us today and potentially cost us 100 runs in the Ireland game (when Andrew Balbirnie was not given lbw on one) so it’s tough pill to swallow. The boys are distraught and every other Associate nation wanted us through to prove a point and we were within five runs That’s a DRS question. So, yes, gutted.”

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