Ireland on the Road to Zimbabwe (Again)

The Irish men's side got vital ODI cricket against Bangladesh but will mull over what didn't go to plan.

Harry Tector

It was all over in the first match. 7pm to be exact. Ireland needed to win this “home” series 3-0. And one game by a considerable margin.

Two minutes before, you’d argue there was a chance. Ireland were 65 for 3 at 16.3 overs in reply of 249. After having Bangladesh 187/6 they would have been hoping for less.

But a large puddle remained on the middle in Chelmsford. The cut-off time was still possibly as late as 8pm.

This was a moment to remember South Africa.

They would have been closely following the Chelmsford fixture. If Ireland were to win 3-0 and obtain sufficient net run rate, they would have qualified automatically for this year’s ODI World Cup in South Africa’s place. Maybe they were due some luck after weather-related tragedy at Sydney, 1992 and Durban, 2003.

South Africa were due. Ireland certainly weren’t.

Holding these matches, the final (ever) Super League series in Chelmsford, was a last ditch attempt at direct World Cup qualification. Cricket Ireland felt the best way to get three results without rain was to stage the home games outside Ireland.

By 19:01, when the first game had been called off, one would certainly have thought Malahide might have been the better bet. But it’s hard to know for sure as heavy rain seemed to have come in over both England and Ireland. Whether Malahide or even Belfast was dry at this specific point, would the grounds have drained like Chelmsford?

After the abandoned first game and disappointment over direct qualification, Ireland fought back strongly to create a captivating contest. The second ODI in particular may live on as a classic with Bangladesh chasing down 320 with three balls left, and only three wickets left.

The final game similarly went tight, with Ireland just losing by only just five runs. Not much between them, and Bangladesh already assured of their World Cup spot.

Key highlights were George Dockrell’s ball striking (and wickets); scores from Paul Stirling, Andrew Balbirnie, Lorcan Tucker; Josh Little in an Ireland shirt, but of course Tector’s 140 took the chocolate digestive. And claiming Virat Kohli’s spot in the rankings at number No.7.

Did Ireland really expect to qualify automatically? It didn’t seem a million miles away after an historic series win away in the West Indies, and taking points off England in Southampton. But losing a series away to the Netherlands proved costly.

Now to Zimbabwe, in group B with Scotland, Oman, Sri Lanka and the UAE for company.

Tector’s performance throughout the Super League campaign will provide much confidence. Andy McBrine proved immensely valuable with ball, and even occasionally bat. If some of this feels long ago, you’re not wrong. They even began the campaign with Kevin O’Brien.

But now some of Ireland’s youth have well and truly come into their own. Tector, Tucker, and of course that man Little who’ll be available despite being rested for the Lord’s test match against England.

There’ll be murmurings, but eyes on the prize. Or that’s the logic.

A World Cup is a World Cup. Ireland have tasted the disappointment of not qualifying before, and in Zimbabwe. Deja vu? Groundhog day? The ICC multiverse? Who knows what awaits them.

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