CRICKET: Zimbabwe defeat helps Ireland World Cup hopes

Niall O'Brien has been a fine servant to Irish cricket
Niall O'Brien has been a fine servant to Irish cricket

Ireland have been handed an unlikely World Cup lifeline after 10/1 outsiders UAE stunned hosts Zimbabwe in a rain affected encounter in Harare.

Zimbabwe needed 230 from 40 overs and that equation was reduced to six from the final delivery, with Irish passport holder and former Lisburn batsman Craig Ervine on strike.

He could only manage two and Zimbabwe will miss out on their first finals since 1979.

The three run win for the Emiratis mean the Irish can qualify for a fourth consecutive World Cup if they beat Afghanistan today.

However standing in their way is former coach Phil Simmons and his fielding coach John Mooney – both of whom enjoyed great success with the Irish during Simmons’ eight year tenure, but who now ply their trade with Afghanistan.

It will be a special day for Irish wicket-keeper Niall O’Brien, who watched the drama of the UAE versus Zimbabwe match unfold in his hotel room along with the squad in Harare.

He will join younger brother Kevin and William Porterfield in playing 100 One-Day Internationals, and the 36 year-old is relishing what is certain to be a high octane encounter.

“It’s a huge game and we will be right up for it,” said O’Brien. “Getting to 100 ODI caps is something I’m very proud of. I still remember my debut back in 2006 so to get to 100 is very pleasing.”

O’Brien is enjoying a renaissance in the tournament, scoring a run-a-ball 70 in last week’s win over Scotland, as well as taking a superb catch to clinch the 25-run victory.

“I am happy to be playing like a full-time cricketer again. Training daily and having my focus generally on cricket has been a great help, and I am enjoying my cricket which always helps.”

Qualification for the finals would be a dream come true for O’Brien.

“Playing a World Cup in England would be a fitting finale to my Ireland career. I spent 14 years loving the county game.

“I live in England, where I am married to a wonderful English woman and plan to spend the rest of my life there.”