Ireland 271-9 (A Balbirnie 105, B Wheal 3 for 43) beat Scotland 246 (K Coetzer 61, B Rankin 4 for 63) by 25 runs
Scotland slipped to their first defeat of the ICC World Cup Qualifier as a century from Andrew Balbirnie took Ireland to victory at the Harare Sports Club. Despite a battling performance led by another half century from Kyle Coetzer a middle-order collapse of 4 for 20 was to put the game beyond the Scots as their Celtic rivals kept alive their own hopes of qualification.
Scotland had chased in all but one of their five previous matches and after winning his fifth toss of the competition Coetzer’s decision to do so again was rewarded in the first over as Brad Wheal hurried Paul Stirling (0) into returning a catch via edge and pad. Wheal could easily have had a second in his next, too, as Balbirnie was given the benefit of the doubt after what was a very confident shout for LBW.
The Ireland opener had struggled for consistency in the early stages of the tournament but looked in good touch as he made the most of his good fortune with a beautifully timed push down the ground for the first boundary of the innings. The tight line being bowled by Scotland’s seamers kept a check on the scoring, however, and with Ireland at 39-1 at the end of the Powerplay it was the fielding side who were the happier.
The next over should have added a run out, however, as a poor throw from Wheal to Matthew Cross left the wicketkeeper with too much to do to beat Balbirnie’s desperate dive. The bowler quickly made amends with a quick, full delivery to see off William Porterfield (17), but the missed opportunity was to prove costly.
Balbirnie and new batsman Niall O’Brien began to assert themselves as Scotland searched for a third breakthrough. Both passed fifty as they led the recovery with a hundred partnership, and with wickets in hand and the bowlers under pressure a total in excess of 300 looked on the cards.
Scotland struck back as O’Brien (70) was run out by a direct hit from Craig Wallace, but with the score at 183-3 and the big-hitting Kevin O’Brien looking to pick up from where his brother left off, the game still looked to be in Ireland’s favour.
The pendulum was to swing again, however, as Ireland lost six wickets for thirty runs. After Balbirnie completed his well-crafted hundred, a second in ODIs for the former Middlesex player, he was trapped in front by Mark Watt, and with O’Brien following in the next over for 46 after edging Chris Sole to Wallace in a tame end to his belligerent 27-ball knock, Scotland had a foot in the door.
Gary Wilson (3), Simi Singh (7) and Barry McCarthy (5) followed quickly, and when Boyd Rankin (0) was run out off the last ball of the innings, Ireland had tumbled from 241-4 to 271-9.
It had been a terrific fightback from the Scots against their Full Member opponents. On a good but two-paced pitch, however, Scotland would have to bat very well to return to the top of the Super Six table.
Batting on the Harare surface for the first time, openers Coetzer and Cross initially took their time before signalling their intentions in the sixth by helping themselves to a boundary each off McCarthy. Although the seventh brought a setback as an attempted drive by Cross (18) was smartly taken at slip by Wilson, the Scotland captain responded by hitting three fours off Boyd Rankin’s first over to maintain the momentum.
Three more came from Rankin’s next, too, as Coetzer took his side past fifty, and with a mighty hit over long on bringing him the first six of the innings Scotland were ahead of the required run-rate and well-placed at 62-1. Calum MacLeod slog-swept Singh for a maximum over square leg as he began to find his range, too, and with Coetzer reaching what had become a memorable half century off his 49th delivery the game was firmly back in Scotland’s hands.
After putting on 68 the stand was broken, however, as MacLeod (21) was caught on the boundary by Balbirnie. Ireland had their second breakthrough, but at 94-2 in the 19th it was the wicket of the in-form Scotland captain which remained key to their hopes.
With the score at 112 Ireland finally had their man. Coetzer (61) had taken 24 off Rankin’s first two overs but was clean-bowled by the final ball of his third as the fast bowler returned in emphatic fashion. George Munsey (1) and Craig Wallace (6) followed quickly as Rankin hauled his side back into the match, and when Michael Leask (2) was caught at long on by Tim Murtagh to give Singh a second wicket, 112-3 had become 132-6.
Richie Berrington and Safyaan Sharif fought back superbly with a 57-ball fifty partnership, but their departure, with Berrington (44) bowled by Murtagh and Sharif (34) by McCarthy, left Scotland with much to do. Mark Watt (31*), Chris Sole (7) and Brad Wheal (14) kept Irish nerves jangling with some terrific late hitting as the game looked to have a final twist, but with the returning Rankin claiming his fourth wicket of the contest Scotland’s magnificent run in the competition had come to an end.
“We certainly felt that with a target of 270 we were in the game,” said Kyle Coetzer.
“There were a couple of crucial moments that didn’t quite go our way but that’s the nature of the game. It’s something we’ve got to work on and get our heads around.”
With what has been a magnificent tournament reaching its climax all eyes now turn to Zimbabwe’s game with West Indies tomorrow. Victory for the hosts will see them through; for Scotland, what has been a superb competition will come down to their final game against the same opponents on Wednesday.