Irish face tough path to Super 12s spot in Hobart

A dejected Andrew Balbirnie leads the Ireland players off the pitch after the T20 World Cup defeat by Namibia last year
Dates: 16 October-13 November Venue: Australia
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary with clips on BBC Sport website & app

Ireland are determined to progress from the T20 World Cup group stage for the first time since 2009 but West Indies, Zimbabwe and Scotland will provide stiff opposition in Hobart.

The top two from Group B will qualify for the Super 12s yet making that second stage has been beyond the Irish in the last five tournaments.

West Indies and Zimbabwe sit above Heinrich Malan’s side in the world rankings while the Scots are far from being also-rans.

Andrew Balbirnie will lead the side out for Monday’s opener against Zimbabwe knowing the Boys in Green will have to be at their best to go through and mix it with the likes of India, England and champions Australia.

Scotland are next up two days later before the toughest test of all on Friday against the Windies – two-time winners and favourites to top the group table.

Much depends on openers Balbirnie and Paul Stirling laying the foundation for a big score while Mark Adair and Josh Little are set to spearhead the Irish attack.

Ireland ended a busy home summer with a confidence-boosting 3-2 series victory over Afghanistan but memories will still be fresh of last year’s early T20 World Cup exit after a defeat by Namibia in their final group match.

Let’s take a closer look at their group opponents ahead of the action at the Bellerive Oval.

Zimbabwe: World ranking – 11

Sikandar Raza is in top form ahead of Zimbabwe's Group B matches in Tasmania
Sikandar Raza is in top form ahead of Zimbabwe’s Group B matches in Tasmania

Getting off to a winning start is vital to the Irish and this could very well be the crunch match for both sides in their their bid to make the Super 12s.

Zimbabwe, just one place above Ireland in the rankings, have David Houghton back at the helm and he saw the Chevrons produce a shock 50-over victory over Australia in Queensland in September.

Leg-spinner Ryan Burl finished with figures of 5-10 but the man of the moment is undoubtedly 36-year-old all-rounder Sikandar Raza, whose strike rate currently hovers around 150 in the T20 format.

Craig Ervine returns from a hamstring injury and the skipper will take his place at the order.

Zimbabwe are enjoying a rich vein of form having won seven of their last nine T20s and they will fancy their chances of securing a Super 12s place for the first time.

Ireland clinched a thrilling 50-over World Cup win over the Chevrons in 2015 and beat them 3-2 in a T20 series last year so they may just hold the psychological edge.

Scotland: World ranking – 15

Scotland's Chris Graves celebrates dismissing Mushfiqur Rahim in the win over Bangladesh in last year's tournament
Scotland’s Chris Graves celebrates dismissing Mushfiqur Rahim in the win over Bangladesh in last year’s tournament

A repeat of last year’s T20 World Cup endeavours would do just nicely for the Scots after they won all three group games in Oman to make the Super 12s.

But they may go into the Hobart games a bit rusty – Ireland have racked up more than 20 competitive T20s this year but Scotland have played just two, with both ending in heavy defeats by New Zealand.

George Munsey provides the main danger with the bat with the opener boasting a strike rate of 144 in T20I cricket.

He and Richie Berrington, who has not missed a T20 international since February 2010, will be key to their hopes of qualifying.

They are the lowest ranked side in the group but they have more than enough talent to compete. Take spinner Mark Watt for example, who has a T20 five-for to his name and is often entrusted to bowl at the death with his tight line and ability to bowl yorkers.

Ireland beat their neighbours 2-0 in the last T20 encounters between the teams at Malahide in 2019.

West Indies: World ranking -7

Nicholas Pooran was appointed West Indies limited overs captain in May
Nicholas Pooran was appointed West Indies limited overs captain in May

A ninth-placed finish in the 2021 T20 World Cup – their lowest finish since the inaugural tournament in 2007 – means the Windies have to navigate the group stage in order to reach the familiar territory of the Super 12s.

A new-look squad has arrived in Australia hoping that a clean slate yields a change in fortune.

Gone are many of the usual protagonists – Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard have retired, Andre Russell was left out and Shimron Hetmyer didn’t make the trip.

Nicholas Pooran is the man entrusted with leading the side and how he performs both with the bat, and as captain – in what is his first tournament in charge – may determine how deep the West Indies go at the tournament.

Yannic Cariah is a surprise inclusion in the squad, having not bowled in any T20 for the Windies since 2016. Whether he and left-arm option Akeal Hosein have enough to bamboozle the world’s best batters remains to be seen but there is no shortage of all-rounders who are well-placed to contribute to the wickets column.

Jason Holder will again be a key figure while the uncapped Raymon Reifer could also be one to keep an eye on as the Men in Maroon look to kickstart what they will hope will be a bright new era.

They may be expected to take top spot in the group but Ireland have proved tricky opponents for the Windies, particularly in the 50-over format with a shock World Cup win in 2015 and 2-1 series victory in Kingston earlier this year.

There you have it – can it be sixth time lucky for Ireland as they seek to break their group stage hoodoo.

West Indies v Scotland Monday, 17 Oct (5:00 BST)
Ireland v Zimbabwe Monday, 17 Oct (09:00 BST)
Ireland v Scotland Wednesday 19 Oct (05:00 BST)
West Indies v Zimbabwe Wednesday 19 Oct (09:00 BST)
Ireland v West Indies Friday, 21 Oct (05:00 BST)
Scotland v Zimbabwe Friday, 21 Oct (09:00 BST)
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