Ireland were cruelly denied an opportunity to qualify automatically for the ODI World Cup in India in October after rain washed out the first ODI in Chelmsford. MALHAR HATHI reports
A clean sweep against Bangladesh, with at least one big victory margin to boost their net run-rate, would have seen the Irish pip South Africa to finish in the top eight of the World Cup Super League standings and qualify automatically.
Instead, Ireland will now have to battle out for the two spots up for grabs at the ten-team qualifying event in Zimbabwe scheduled from June 18 to July 9 which will include the hosts alongside Netherlands, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. The remaining five teams will be the top three from the ICC World Cup League 2 (Scotland, Oman and Nepal) and two from the Qualifiers Playoff (USA and UAE).
Given the high-stakes nature of the series, Cricket Ireland opted to host the matches at the Cloud County Ground in Chelmsford, the driest venue in England, rather than at home with poor weather prospects. But as fate would have it, Ireland’s worst fears were realised when no further play was possible due to rain 16.3 overs into their chase of 247, one they would have been confident of chasing with Harry Tector and Lorcan Tucker at the crease.
Bangladesh eventually won a closely contested series 2-0 with both the matches being decided in the final over.
In the second ODI, Harry Tector’s career-best propelled the “hosts” to 319/6 in a rain-shortened 45-overs-a-side game before Najmul Hossain Shanto’s 93-ball 117 and veteran Mushfiqur Rahim’s unbeaten 36 at the death closed out a tense three-wicket win.
With little to play for but pride in the final Super League fixture, Mark Adair’s 4-40 helped Ireland bowl out the visitors for 274 and were in a comfortable position to chase it with half-centuries from Balbirnie, Tector, Tucker and Paul Stirling but ultimately fell short by five runs.
“Very frustrating. We were going well and then we lost wickets, momentum shifted,” Balbirnie said after the game.“We need to bat better, especially at the qualifier. It's the harshest place to learn this lesson. 100% we thought we could get it but lost wickets after being in control. We've played a lot of games in these atmospheres, we just need to be harsh on ourselves.
“I don't want to look too far ahead but, naturally, that 50-over qualifier and T20 qualifier post-Zim are the two most important schedules in our calendar at the moment," he said. "But we want to enjoy ourselves. We want to enjoy the challenges that are coming over the next few weeks and hopefully we can embrace them and play a certain way that people want to watch us.”
Balbirnie, Tucker excited for Lord’s Test
Before the Qualifiers, Ireland will return to Chelmsford for a three-day first-class match against Essex in preparation for the one-off Test match against England at Lord’s from June 1-4.
“It's very exciting for a number of us who haven't played at Lord's," Balbirnie said. "But it's a special event in the English cricket calendar, never mind our own calendar. So we're very fortunate and privileged to be able to play there.
England, under the new regime of captain Ben Stokes and Head Coach Brendon McCullum, have managed to win 10 of their last 12 matches with their positive style of playing the format catching the eye of many.
"We know the type of cricket England are playing is amazing to watch, so it'll be nice to come up against it and try to find our own way of competing against it. Hopefully we can play good cricket and try to match them as best we can."
The last time the two sides met at Lord’s in 2019, Tim Murtagh famously took five wickets for 13 runs to bowl the hosts out for 85 on the first morning. Even though Ireland managed to eke out a 122-run first innings lead, they were bowled out for a mere 38 runs chasing 182 in the final innings.
Tucker, who recently became only the second Irishman to score a Test century against Bangladesh in April, ran the drinks during that game and is particularly excited for his first game at the historic venue.
“I was there in 2019 and I remember how hot the weather was! It’s really exciting to have it coming up so soon,” he said. “Lord’s is an incredibly special place close to my heart. I’m a member of the MCC. Hopefully we’ll have a lot of travelling support and all the Irish people in London will come out to cheer us on.”