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Stakes couldn't be higher for Ireland as race for quarter-finals hots up

It’s not quite make-or-break yet but the significance of tonight’s game against Zimbabwe cannot be understated.

The defeat to South Africa has been wiped from the memory according to the squad.
The defeat to South Africa has been wiped from the memory according to the squad.
Image: Rob Griffith

ON THE BACK of Tuesday’s defeat to South Africa, the qualification hurdles are coming thick and fast for Ireland and blundering another fence would be a major setback in the race for the World Cup quarter-finals.

In theory, Saturday’s meeting with Zimbabwe in Hobart (3.30am Irish time) is not make-or-break but suffering a second consecutive Pool B loss would leave Ireland with an uphill task to finish inside the top four.

Trying to work out the permutations remains a complex task but what we are sure of is that two more victories, from their final three group games, would secure Phil Simmons’ side a place in the knock-out stages. Anything less and you start to rely on other results going your way.

By winning their opening two games of the campaign, Ireland got out of the blocks quickly but the 201-run reversal to the Proteas, although an expected result, dented the net run-rate and saw them drop down one place to fifth in Pool B.

That said, the squad appeared to be in high spirits as they made the journey south for tonight’s game at the Bellerive Oval. William Porterfield has insisted the chastening defeat to South Africa has done little to affect confidence within the camp but the significance of the clash with Zimbabwe cannot be understated.

John Mooney bowls John Mooney has impressed with the new ball but needs support Source: PHOTOSPORT/Tertius Pickard/INPHO

The African side have lost three of their four games but two points from their trip to Tasmania would reignite their campaign and bring them into contention for that fourth spot – the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

“I don’t think it is make or break [on Saturday]. Every game for ourselves, we’ve gone into it looking for those two points,” Porterfield said. “We did it against the West Indies, UAE… and against Zimbabwe it’s not going to be any different.

“We’re going to prepare for Hobart as we have every other game. It’s a pretty big two points for us [if we can get them].”

Zimbabwe’s only victory came against UAE but they squandered good positions against South Africa and Pakistan to leave their hopes of qualification hanging by a thread.

Yet, such a do-or-die scenario is a dangerous one for Ireland to come up against but Zimbabwe are inconsistent if anything. The loss of captain Elton Chigumbura through injury is a huge blow to a side afflicted by disharmony right up until the start of the tournament.

There are no such problems for Ireland as they arrived from Canberra reporting a clean bit of health. Phil Simmons’ hugely successful seven year tenure has been underpinned by consistency in selection so there has been no surprise to see him stick with those that have served him so well.

Ed Joyce Ed Joyce has started the tournament in good form and remains key to Ireland's chances Source: Barry Chambers/INPHO

But the performances of Max Sorensen have left a lot to be desired. The fast-bowler was a last minute call-up following an injury to Tim Murtagh and has looked off the pace in the opening three games.

He leaked 76 runs from just six overs against South Africa and has failed to find any sort of consistency with the new ball. Should the management decide change is required, Craig Young is the obvious deputy having been Ireland’s stand-out bowler in the preparatory tours.

Ireland will have fond memories of the last time the sides met at the World Cup. The tie in Sabina Park eight years ago set the Boys in Green on their way to the knock-out stages of that tournament under the tutelage of Adi Birrell.

Although nothing can be decided in the early hours of Saturday morning, another positive result against the Zimbabweans would be go along way to helping Ireland reach the last eight this time around.

- Originally published 0745

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