Belfast Telegraph

Irish feel they have right balance for battles ahead


By Ian Callender

The Ireland squad arrived in Harare yesterday to be greeted by another downpour, a timely reminder that weather could play a big factor in which teams emerge from the group stages of the World Cup qualifying tournament.

Ireland start their journey, which they hope will end with a place in the final - and qualification for England 2019 - with a game against the dangerous Netherlands tomorrow (7.30am GMT), a clash which was expected to go a long way to determining the vital top three places in Group A.

But with the rainy season in Zimbabwe forecast to drag on, it could be the group games against Papua New Guinea and UAE, the two weakest teams Ireland face in the first stage, that could be the unexpected hurdles.

William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, has already voiced his concern that weather could interfere but for now he can only control the controllables and that is performing on the field, something this squad have been doing very successfully for the last two months.

Their last 10 completed one-day games have been won, one of which was rain-interrupted, and the players could hardly be going into the tournament in better form.

Although dismissed early in the final warm-up game on Thursday, Paul Stirling plundered 156 in each of his previous two innings, while Kevin O'Brien hit two 50s in the four-game tour of South Africa and Andrew Balbirnie, Niall O'Brien and Gary Wilson one each.

The fact that Porterfield and Ed Joyce, still a class act at the age of 39, are just one innings away from a big one also augurs well for the tournament.

Boyd Rankin continues to be a giant in every way with the ball and Tim Murtagh's experience with the new ball should trouble every opening batsman. With 9.30am starts, there is a strong case for putting the opposition in every time and the fact that Scotland were reduced to 60 for six on Thursday only gave credence to that scenario.

With George Dockrell showing consistency with the ball, he will confidently lead the spin attack, although, unless the Old Hararians pitch looks to be a raging turner, Andy McBrine and Simi Singh will not make the 1st XI, leaving Stirling to give Dockrell any slow support.

But Porterfield is content with the make-up of his side and there will be no excuses.

"We're a pretty balanced side, which gives us great confidence going into the tournament," he said. "Regardless of who we come up against, I believe we can match anything and perform in all aspects of the game.

"Whether it's our seam attack, our batting or the spin department, we have the bases well covered and we're just looking forward to the tournament. The first objective is to reach the Super Six and we're going into Sunday's game in winning form.

"The Dutch are a strong team with a few match-winners, and like any game in the group we're going to have to be at the top of our game to beat them."

The name that must not be mentioned is Ryan ten Doeschate, the Essex captain and a prolific scorer at Associate level for Netherlands. It is unfair to call the Dutch "the Ten Doeschate team" but Ireland know unless they get him relatively early, their task of a making a winning start will be a lot harder.

Belfast Telegraph

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