Life, in a sense, has come a full circle for Ireland. It was against Zimbabwe that they kicked off their World Cup campaign back in 2007 with a pulsating tie at Sabina Park. In their very first encounter they demonstrated that they are going to be no pushovers in international cricket. And, to prove that their impressive debut was no fluke, they have gone on to defeat Pakistan, England and West Indies in World Cups. Eight years after they first met, Zimbabwe and Ireland will lock horns again at Hobart. And, like at Sabina Park, another humdinger could be on the cards.
Ireland wouldn’t be going into the match in a great frame of mind. The thrashing they took against South Africa would definitely have dented their confidence to some extent. But, as Ireland skipper William Porterfield put the defeat in context, the team has no option but to get over it. Of course, the Irish can take heart from the fact that the Proteas handed out a similar pasting to West Indies in the match before they took on Ireland. So it is quite possible that Ireland look at the defeat as a one-off, and begin fresh against Zimbabwe.
The biggest problem for Ireland in the tournament has been their bowling. They no longer have the likes of Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston around, something they enjoyed during the last two editions. In fact, if you look at the present bowling attack, except of George Dockrell, no one has impressed consistently. They do not have many options in the bowling department, which is why they struggled in the matches against West Indies and, even UAE, with the ball. This is one of the key factors that may hinder Ireland’s progress into the next round.
Ireland’s two victories in the World Cup have been built on their impressive batting efforts. Although they failed against South Africa, it was primarily because they made a genuine effort to chase 400. Ireland have the batsmen to succeed against Zimbabwe’s bowling. A number of their top and middle order players have been among the runs. Paul Stirling, Niall O’Brien, Kevin O’Brien, Gary Wilson and Ed Joyce, all have contributed at various stages. And, although William Porterfield hasn’t got a big one, he has looked in good touch. Andy Balbirnie has also impressed with his attitude. As a batting unit, Ireland remain dangerous.
Zimbabwe will head into the key clash having lost their captain Elton Chigumbura to a severe thigh injury. They also gave away a golden opportunity to register a win against the struggling Pakistanis. Zimbabwe had done exceedingly well to restrict Pakistan to under 250 in their previous encounter, but their batting floundered. With that they may have lost their best chance of staking claim for a place in the last eight. Still, they should back themselves to beat Ireland. Like the Irish, Zimbabwe also depend heavily on their batsmen. Sean Williams has been the standout performer so far. And while Brendan Taylor and co have been among the runs, they need to raise their games further to stay alive.
--By A Cricket Analyst