Aiming for a big hit: Ireland and Scotland set for cricket World Cup


Saxton Oval in Nelson at the top of the South Island may not be the most glamorous of venues in this World Cup even though this delightful city is named after Admiral Horatio. But it is there that Ireland expect.

On Monday they begin their World Cup campaign against West Indies and of all the fixtures between the big boys of the top eight and the rest this one has been earmarked for an upset. The Irish may not necessarily regard beating West Indies as an upset. Their chief executive, Warren Deutrom, has suggested Ireland’s campaign will be deemed a failure if they do not make the quarter-finals, thereby setting a remarkably demanding standard. Well, to reach the last eight Ireland surely do have to beat West Indies.

There have been only two ODIs played in Nelson and West Indies will not have happy memories of the first, in January 2014, when they lost a Duckworth-Lewis game to New Zealand by a large margin. They are in some disarray while the Irish, never intimidated in this tournament, have a few points to make.

Ed Joyce, their veteran batsman, has dolefully suggested this might be Ireland’s last World Cup campaign. In 2019 the plan is for a and the chances are Ireland will have to qualify via a tournament in Bangladesh – there can be no guarantee of that in alien conditions – unless they can somehow muscle themselves into the top eight, which is an extremely difficult proposition.

Ireland know how to win and they know how to keep the memories of some of their greatest triumphs alive. In September 2013 England, led by Eoin Morgan, who gave Boyd Rankin his first cap on the morning of the match, played in Dublin. Those from over the water reporting the game politely asked what Wi-Fi code was being used in the press box. It was, of course, “Bangalore2011”, an inevitable reference to . But there have been others such as .

The Irish seem like old hands. They have several players familiar to those on the county circuit from old Joyce to young George Dockrell, who seems to have been around for ages and who bowled his 10 overs in Bangalore. The latest recruit for Middlesex, Andrew Balbirnie, is another highly rated by his peers. So people are alert to Irish possibilities.

Somehow Scotland have lower ambitions even though they have in a warmup game. They have a tougher opening match against New Zealand on Tuesday in Dunedin, where there will be a few onlookers unsure of which team to support.

Scotland have never won a game in the World Cup after appearances in the finals in 1999 and 2007. So they would be relieved to register any victory, their best chances being against Afghanistan in Dunedin or Bangladesh in Nelson.

The side are led by Preston Mommsen. He was born in Durban but completed his education at Gordonstoun before staying on in Edinburgh. Mommsen says this is the “best prepared [cricket] team in the nation’s history”, quite a common refrain in this World Cup.

However, this observation overlooks the possibility that Scotland’s shirts – with tartan sleeves and all the appropriate logos – have yet to arrive from China and may well not be available for them to wear in their opening game. It may be that the Scots are so hardy – and it can be quite chilly down in Dunedin at this time of year – they will play with bare chests, painted blue. Or they could wear their old kit.

Perhaps their side will become as familiar as Ireland’s. Kyle Coetzer has played plenty of county cricket with Northamptonshire; Matt Machan has become a regular for Sussex. Calum MacLeod fielded as a sub for England in the 2009 Ashes series and has appeared for Warwickshire. As a Gaelic speaker he might be able to find a way round that the ICC is eager to impose in this tournament. Recently Ali Evans, despite the indignity of being released by Derbyshire, has started taking wickets.

There is talent there and the enrolment of Paul Collingwood as assistant to the coach, Grant Bradburn, the former Kiwi off-spinner, is designed to boost the squad’s confidence. Collingwood does not dwell on technicalities but he does remind the Scots anything is possible and, as the only man to lead England to victory in an ICC tournament (), he should know.