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Ireland's Cricket World Cup quest gets a boost with victory over Scotland


By Ian Callender

Ireland go into the World Cup qualifying tournament next week on a winning run of 10 games but they will hope there are no finishes as close as yesterday's final warm-up in Bulawayo, if only to keep the heart-rate steady.

This was one last-ball thriller which Ireland came out on the right side of but as top scorer Andrew Balbirnie agreed, after their two wickets win over Scotland, it was the winning momentum which got Ireland over the line.

"Losing is a habit but winning is even more so," he said. "And we've been in a good frame of mind since Christmas and, going into the tournament, it's a great time to get that winning feeling back. It's also great to know we can be in that situation and come out the right side."

As captain William Porterfield had requested, Ireland went into the game using just 11 players and with James Shannon, Simi Singh, Andy McBrine and Peter Chase left on the sidelines, it looked very much like the side which will face Netherlands in their Group A opener on Sunday.

And that included Boyd Rankin who not only looked ready to go in earnest but went out and proved it with the ball and bat!

Coming to the middle after Barry McCarthy was low for nine and still needing 19 from nine balls, Rankin thumped his first two balls down the ground for four and with a two off the last, Ireland were left with just eight to win from the final over.

With George Dockrell, now a consistent No 8 batsman, already on 39, they confidently knocked off the singles until they needed just one more off the last ball. It was full and straight but Dockrell hit it back down the ground and walked off knowing there are much stiffer tests ahead.

Earlier, Rankin's burst of three wickets in six balls reduced Scotland to 60 for six and although a seventh wicket stand of 156 hauled them back into contention, he returned to remove both players, Michael Leask, for an international best 91, and George Munsey, the backbone of the innings, his 77 coming off 118 balls with just four boundaries.

McCarthy and Tim Murtagh took the last two wickets with three balls to spare and the feeling in the Irish camp at half-time was they would rather chase 240 than 140 in their final warm-up game. They didn't expect to use 10 batsmen, though.

Paul Stirling had scored 156 in each of his last two innings so this was the perfect game for him to have a failure, caught at second slip in the fourth over for three, and Porterfield followed five overs later, caught behind for eight.

Even Ed Joyce lasted only 20 balls as, after getting off the mark with a six, he had added just eight when he was stumped off Tom Sole's first delivery.

Balbirnie, by this time, was settled and with Niall O'Brien put Ireland back in control with a stand of 90 in 18 overs.

But the old adage of adding two wickets to the total was soon a reality as O'Brien swept straight to backward square and brother Kevin, after hitting back to back fours, was another soft dismissal, pushing straight to extra cover to leave Ireland 148-5. When Balbirnie was caught behind 10 runs later for 79, it was Scotland who were favourites with less than 12 overs left.

But they hadn't seen the last of Rankin and Dockrell.

Scores: Scotland 239 (49.3 overs, M Leask 91, G Munsey 77; B Rankin 5-38, T Murtagh 3-42, B McCarthy 2-54) Ireland 243-8 (50 overs, A Balbirnie 79, G Dockrell 47, N O'Brien 35, G Wilson 21). Ireland won by 2 wickets

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