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So near, yet so far for Ireland as Joyce eyes must-win UAE game

 

By Ian Callender

If, at the start of this World Cup qualifying tournament, ­Ireland were given the ­scenario of ­beating UAE in their final group game to make the Super Six, they would have given up the first three games and joined the competition today.

But, as events have turned out, following Saturday's 52-run defeat by West Indies, today's game at Old Hararians is a must-win because it looks like UAE will be the surprise third qualifier from Group A and to ensure they start the Super Six with two points.

Only points against the teams who progress out of the group are carried forward so the 'big' win against third seeds Netherlands on the opening day seemed to be the perfect start for Ireland. But in one of the many shocks this tournament has served up, the Dutch lost to UAE and only victory over West Indies today will give them a chance of making the next stage.

Scotland and Zimbabwe are certain to be in the Super Six as the top two in Group B - Afghanistan can still go through after winning their last group game on Saturday but are relying on Nepal beating Hong Kong today - but as they meet today in Bulawayo, the winners are certain to start Super Six with four points.

It all means that Ireland will probably have to win not just today but all three Super Six games, against Scotland, Zimbabwe and either Afghanistan on Hong Kong to reach the final and qualify for England 2019.

Today's match should be the easiest - Ireland have won all five ODIs against UAE by big margins, but their most experienced batsman, Ed Joyce, and top scorer against West Indies is taking nothing for granted.

"We certainly go into the game with confidence but as the competition has shown, there has been opportunities for every team to win every game so we certainly won't be taking the game lightly," said Joyce. "We will be doing our best to get those points in the bag and get us through to the Super Six with at least two points.

"It would have been great to take these points (against West Indies) through to the Super Six and make our job a bit easier but we know we are playing some decent cricket and have a good chance."

It was a case of so near, so far for Ireland on Saturday as a series of missed opportunities ended their 12-match winning run - a first defeat in 2018 and for coach Graham Ford.

Paul Stirling missed a straightforward return catch off Jason Holder on 17 - he added another 37 - although it was Rovman Powell, after surviving a difficult chance on 18, who powered the Windies to 257-8 with a 14-boundary century; his second 50 came in 22 balls.

Joyce and Kevin O'Brien had got Ireland to within 92 of victory with 14 overs left but, crucially, Kemar Roach, dismissed both batsmen in his first comeback over, having already sent back Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie.

"We probably lost one or two too many wickets early on but still got ourselves into a decent position and didn't capitalise," reflected Joyce. "When you are suddenly six down it's very tough for two new guys to get the runs."

The biggest call today for Ford and Porterfield is not to bring back Barry McCarthy, who bowled impressively at today's venue against the Netherlands but who to leave out. Andy McBrine continues to outbowl George Dockrell and it is likely Gary Wilson or Dockrell's improved batting will be forfeited.

Scores: West Indies 257-8 (50 overs, R Powell 101, J Holder 54, S Hetmyer 36; T Murtagh 4-41, A McBrine 2-45) Ireland 205 (46.2 overs, E Joyce 64, K O'Brien 38, N O'Brien 34; K Roach 4-43, K Williams 4-43). West Indies won by 52 runs.

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