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Dutch gold! Ireland's bid to reach a fourth World Cup off to the perfect start

Ireland made light work of Netherlands in Harare to continue their winning run.

ONE DOWN, SIX to go.

927099092 Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign is up and running. Source: Julian Herbert-IDI

Ireland’s bid to reach a fourth consecutive World Cup, and in the process upset the tournament organisers by qualifying at the expense of one of the established powers, is off to the perfect start with a crushing 93-run D/L victory over Netherlands.

Graham Ford’s side safely negotiated the first hurdle in this high-stakes, fiercely-competitive qualifying tournament by recording their ninth-straight One-Day International victory.

There will be stiffer tests to come, most notably this day next week against tournament favourites West Indies, but this was an encouraging and momentum-building start for Ireland, who have rediscovered form and conviction since the arrival of Ford as head coach.

With little margin for error through an unwieldy format involving two group stages and a final, before just two out of 10 teams qualify for next summer’s World Cup in England, the onus was on Ireland to make a fast start in Harare against their old adversaries.

It will come as more of a relief than anything that the recent upturn in fortunes continued into the serious business and today’s win provides a strong platform for Ireland — now top of Group A after round one — to progress through to the Super Sixes stage.

“The first game of any tournament is huge, we know the Dutch are a dangerous team, so to come out with a convincing win in the end is quite a relief to get the tournament going after a while of prep,” man-of-the-match Andrew Balbirnie said afterwards.

Put in by Netherlands captain Peter Borren, Ireland’s top order all got starts but after negating the new-ball threat, Paul Stirling (20), Ed Joyce (32) and William Porterfield (47) will have been disappointed not to kick on and make hay against a fairly sedate Dutch attack.

When Joyce departed in the 29th over, Ireland were 118/3 but the in-form Balbirnie and Niall O’Brien went about raising the tempo as they assembled a 101-run partnership in 82 balls to give their side some momentum heading into the final overs.

Ireland v Netherlands - ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier Balbirnie continued his rich vein of form with a half-century. Source: Julian Herbert-IDI

Balbirnie, who has averaged 64.25 runs in his last four knocks, was once again top-scorer with 68, bringing up his half-century by nonchalantly helping a bouncer down to fine leg for four, and O’Brien struck five boundaries and two sixes in an innings of 49 in just 35 balls.

The middle order remains something of a concern for Ireland as Kevin O’Brien (4) and Gary Wilson (0) fell in succession when they were trying to push on but Balbirnie, George Dockrell and Barry McCarthy steadied to bring Ireland up to 268/7 after 50 overs.

A brief rain delay at the end of Ireland’s innings caused a delayed restart and with nine overs lost, Netherlands’ target was revised to 243, but they never looked like chasing that total down.

Tim Murtagh struck as early as the third ball and from there Ireland were always in the box-seat, taking wickets at regular intervals to ensure there would be no false start from Ford’s side.

Murtagh (3/28), McCarthy (2/28), Boyd Rankin (2/18) and O’Brien (2/28) all grabbed important wickets and bowled economically as Netherlands were dismissed for 149.

“We think 250 on that pitch would have been a par score, so to get above that we were happy,” Porterfield said.”It was always going to rain today according to the forecast, and we had a look at the conditions and then we’d bowl first if we had the choice.”

“It was the first game of the tournament and we still have a few big ones to go. We can’t look past our next game against PNG. Our focus is to come out of our group with the maximum number of points as possible.”

In today’s other games, Scotland pulled off a huge shock by defeating Afghanistan — heavily-tipped to qualify — thanks to a superb innings from opening batsman Calum MacLeod, who finished unbeaten on 157.

Ireland v Netherlands - ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier Boyd Rankin celebrates taking the last Dutch wicket. Source: Julian Herbert-IDI

MacLeod led the charge as the Scots chased down 255 with seven wickets in hand to throw the tournament wide open.

Elsewhere, United Arab Emirates comfortably defeated Papua New Guinea while hosts Zimbabwe got up and running with a big win over Nepal.

The action resumes on Tuesday when Ireland continue their Group A campaign against PNG in Harare.

ICC World Cup Qualifier, Group A:

Ireland 268/7 (Balbirnie 68, N O’Brien 49)

Netherlands 149 (Murtagh 3/28, McCarthy 2/28, Rankin 2/19, K O’Brien 2/28)

Ireland win by 93 runs (D/L) — full scorecard available here

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Ryan Bailey

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