Ireland’s World Cup hopes remain alive as UAE stun Zimbabwe
Ireland will qualify for 2019 finals if they beat Afghanistan on Friday
United Arab Emirates bowler Muhammad Naveed celebrates the wicket of Graeme Cremer of Zimbabwe during the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier at The Harare Sports Club. Photograph: Julian Herbert-IDI/IDI via Getty Images
Ireland have been handed a remarkable lifeline and a chance to qualify for the 2019 Cricket World Cup in Harare on Friday after the United Arab Emirates shocked hosts Zimbabwe in the penultimate Super Sixes game of the qualifying tournament on Thursday.
The gulf state, who had been without a win in the Super Sixes until Thursday, won a thrilling rain-affected game by three runs at the Harare Sports Club.
It means that Ireland take on Afghanistan in the final Super Sixes game on Friday morning at the same venue, knowing that a win will see them joining the West Indies in qualifying for next year’s finals, which will be held in England and Wales.
Afghanistan, now coached by former Ireland boss Phil Simmons, have the same incentive in what would be a remarkable turnaround in form after they lost their opening three games in the group stages of the competition.
Zimbabwe is going through a rainy season, which saw Thursday’s game delayed after heavy showers hit the ground towards the end of the UAE innings, but if the game is rained off, both sides will earn a point and Ireland will progress on the basis of a better run rate than both Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.
Zimbabwe could still make it but only in the long-shot situation where Ireland and Afghanistan play out a low-scoring tie.
Afghanistan certainly have a run of form on their side following their awful start and have won their last three games, including a three-wicket win over the West Indies.
Ireland have enjoyed some hugely competitive battles with Afghanistan in One-Day Internationals, with Ireland leading the head-to-head between the countries with nine wins to seven, including a two-one series win in December in Sharjah.
Ireland bounced back from a poor 107-run defeat to Zimbabwe in their opening Super Sixes game to beat Scotland by 25 runs to keep their slim hopes of qualification alive.
Veteran batsman Ed Joyce missed that game due to a swollen knee but Ireland management were hopeful that they would be picking from a full squad on Friday morning as they look to qualify for a fourth-straight 50-overs World Cup.
Coach Graham Ford will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to selection with Simi Singh having impressed with the ball against Scotland. If Joyce does return, it could be at the expense of Gary Wilson.
Ireland v Afghanistan, Harare Sports Club, Friday, 7.30am – Live Sky Sports Mix