Andrew Balbirnie    Getty Images
Andrew Balbirnie Getty Images

Centurion Andy Balbirnie called Boyd Rankin Ireland‘s “X factor” after the fast bowler took four crucial wickets to wrap up a 25-run win over Scotland on Sunday that kept their World Cup qualifying hopes alive. While Balbirnie set up Ireland’s total of 271 for 9 with his 105 in Harare, Rankin turned the game with three wickets in 11 deliveries to derail Scotland‘s chase.

The win kept Ireland in contention for one of the two remaining places at next year’s World Cup in England and Wales, and left Scotland possibly needing victory over the West Indies in their final Super Sixes game on Wednesday.

“He’s our X factor, no doubt,” said Balbirnie. “It’s great to have him in your team, and to have him take those wickets was just great for us.”

Rankin’s day with the ball had started disastrously with Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer taking him on and smashing six boundaries in his first two overs. But the former England man returned to clean bowl Coetzer with one that nipped back in.

In his next over the 33-year-old had George Munsey caught behind, and when Craig Wallace chipped a simple return catch back to him, Scotland were 122 for 5.

“Kyle got hold of him a bit at the start of his spell, but he came back and showed his class, taking three or four important wickets at a vital time,” said Balbirnie.

“Kyle in particular was the one we needed. He was exceptional, he hit the ball wherever he wanted.”

“Well done Boyd, coming on and getting crucial wickets,” said a magnanimous Coetzer after the match. “It seems he’s got a knack of doing that. He’s doing a fine job.”

Had it not been for Rankin’s wickets, Scotland would have come much closer to maintaining their unbeaten run in the tournament on a pitch that both sides agreed was a good one to bat on. Besides Coetzer’s 61, Richie Berrington made 44 and tailenders Safyaan Sharif and Mark Watt both found the boundary repeatedly, and Coetzer insisted there were “no demons” in the pitch.

“The wicket got better as the day went along,” said Coetzer. “It was a great batting track and the ball slid on nicely. Spin has been pretty crucial throughout this tournament, but there were no demons in that pitch.”

It had certainly seemed a good wicket in the midst of Balbirnie and Niall O’Brien‘s record-equalling 138-run partnership for the third wicket earlier in the day.

Two early wickets had dented Ireland’s line-up after they were asked to bat first, but Balbirnie and O’Brien steadily wrested back the initiative.

“I kind of just set myself up to bat as long as possible, and Nobby (Niall O’Brien) played a great role, scoring at a run a ball,” said Balbirnie.

“There was pressure on in a game you must win. So to post 270 I think we were pretty happy. But we could even improve that by another 20 or 30 runs.”

The victory took Ireland to four points in the Super Six table, still behind Scotland and Zimbabwe but with a game still to be played. Ireland are still dependent on matches they are not involved in going their way, but they have an outside chance of qualification.

“We’ve given ourselves a lifeline of hope, and there’s a lot of cricket to be played this week,” said Balbirnie. “We’ve done the job today.

Scotland, with five points, are still level with Zimbabwe at the top.

A win over two-time world champions West Indies will all but assure them of a World Cup place.

“Not the result we were looking for today, but we know what’s ahead of us now,” said Coetzer.

“We know what we need to do. And we can get our heads around that and prepare accordingly. It’s a simple equation really, the West Indies game is pretty crucial.”

Brief Scores

Ireland 271 for 9 (Andrew Balbirnie 105, Naiil O Brien 70; Bradley Wheal 3 for 43) beat Scotland 246 all out (Kyle Coetzer 61, Richie Berrington 44; Boyd Rankin 4 for 63) by 25 runs.