SCOTLAND’s hopes of automatic qualification for the 2015 World Cup were shattered as Ireland secured a dramatic one-wicket victory in Belfast last night.
The Scots needed to win this encounter and tomorrow’s return at the same venue to have any chance of avoiding a second qualifying event in New Zealand early next year. And, as fortunes ebbed and flowed, they looked favourites for much of the second half of a thrilling contest.
Instead it was the Irish, already through to the World Cup, who prevailed with just a ball to spare.
However, this match surely served to dispel the widely-held belief that Ireland are currently comfortably ahead of their Celtic rivals.
It might have looked that way when, set a target of 224, the Irish openers came out with all guns blazing to seize the initiative. William Porterfield, a centurion against England on Tuesday, was quick to punish loose balls, especially from Safyaan Sharif who looked a little rusty on his first international appearance of the season after injury.
By the time Ireland reached 55-0 from ten overs, Porterfield had stroked seven boundaries in his 37, while the normally big-hitting Paul Stirling was able to play a secondary role. Stirling moved to 30 before Majid Haq made the breakthrough, courtesy of Preston Mommsen’s catch.
Three runs later, Porterfield departed for 62, Calum MacLeod diving forward to complete the dismissal off Iain Wardlaw’s bowling.
With two new men at the crease, Ireland needed to re-build but Haq refused to allow them that luxury, the spinner luring Ed Joyce out of his crease for David Murphy to whip off the bails and then finding the edge of Gary Wilson’s bat as the Northamptonshire wicket-keeper again obliged.
The O’Brien brothers, Kevin and Niall, now offered Ireland their biggest hope of recovering from a faltering position but the former was caught behind off Rob Taylor before MacLeod joined the attack to remove the other sibling.
Ireland’s tail, however, clung on and with 12 needed from the last over, Tim Murtagh sealed victory by thumping consecutive Taylor deliveries for six and four.
Earlier, Scotland had their skipper to thank for getting close to a challenging total. Mommsen watched as his side slumped to 56-3 in the face of bowling which was no more than moderate. Mommsen and MacLeod dug in sensibly in a partnership which yielded 60 runs.
But as Scotland threatened to take command, the pendulum swung back in the hosts’ favour when MacLeod was bowled by George Dockrell for 21, to be followed in fairly quick succession by Taylor and Richie Berrington.
Murphy and Haq became Dockrell’s third and fourth victims as the Scottish innings threatened to implode on 165-8.
However, Sharif joined his captain in a late flurry, the Clydesdale man marking his international return by stroking four boundaries in an enterprising 26. He helped the Scots go beyond 200 while Mommsen was left unbeaten, a stoic effort yielding 91 runs from 122 balls.