The Irish team are set to play a set of crucial matches in the Netherlands in the first two weeks of July. They will take on the Dutch firstly in a four-day ICC Intercontinental Cup game at Deventer from July 1-4, followed by two very important ICC World Cricket League ODI matches at Amsterdam on 7th and 9th July.
Victories in both the WCL matches will ensure Ireland a spot in the 2015 World Cup. Presently, Ireland are on top of the table with 17 points, and need two wins from the remaining four games. By far the leading Associate nation over the last few years, Ireland have won eight and lost only one (against Kenya) of their 10 matches so far. In their latest WCL encounters, Ireland scored two victories over the UAE at Sharjah in March. They have a three-point lead in the table over the Netherlands, who have 14 points from 10 games (7 wins and 3 losses). Thus, these home games assume great significance for the Netherlands as well – they need three wins from their remaining four games to seal a World Cup berth.
The top teams in the eight-team WCL will gain an automatic entry in the 14-team 2015 World Cup, to be played in Australia and New Zealand. For the remaining two berths, Nepal, Uganda, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong will join the other six teams in the WCL in a separate ten-team Qualifiers tournament, which is slated to be contested in New Zealand in 2014. The Netherlands themselves have a three-point lead over Scotland and Afghanistan, both of whom have 11 points each. As the WCL enters its final stages, the race for the top two is expected to get hotter with as many as six teams in the fray for automatic qualification.
Ireland’s coach Phil Simmons had a point when he said without a doubt that these two WCL matches in Amsterdam are the most crucial his side will play this year. He added that while it is always fantastic to have fixtures against Full Members, qualification for global tournaments is the main goal, and it is vital that Ireland keep performing on the world stage and show everyone just how far Irish cricket has come. Simmons further said that his team’s objective is not only to qualify, but also win each of their remaining four games to finish with 25 points. Given their recent record and confidence, it is very likely that Ireland will win these two games and become the first of four Associates to qualify the World Cup. The Willam Porterfield-led squad for the two games is exactly the same which took on – and twice came agonisingly short of beating – Pakistan at home last month. Overall in ODI’s, Ireland have won six matches and lost just one against the Netherlands.
Prior to the WCL double-header, Ireland will play an Intercontinental Cup match at Deventer. In this four-day competition too, Ireland lead the table with 76 points, in the case having a comfortable 12-point cushion over second-placed Afghanistan. However, for all their relative success in the WCL, the Netherlands are placed 6th in the Intercontinental Cup, with a total of 36 points. Ireland’s last Intercontinental clash was in March, when they drew against the UAE at Sharjah, a game in which Ireland registered its highest ever team of 589/7 declared. The squad for this match will bear quite a different look, as few of the key players will be on county duty. The team will be lead by Kevin O’Brien, who was also captain in Ireland’s recent 93-run loss to Australia A. Meanwhile, the Netherlands will be lead by Peter Borren in both the formats.
After almost defeating Pakistan and impressing against Australia A, this tour will be yet another opportunity for Ireland to showcase their talent and in the process, achieve their goal of World Cup qualification, while also keeping up the pressure on the ICC to allot them more international matches against top opposition.