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Scotland, Ireland left fighting over scraps

Scotland 296 for 6 (Machan 103, Mommsen 56, Sorensen 3-55) beat Ireland 117 (Evans 4-17, Haq 3-9) by 179 runs
Scorecard

It tells you a great deal about the Associate nations' place in world cricket that this fixture took place at this location. With Ireland and Scotland crying out for fixtures against Full Member nations, crying out for more experience of playing on the biggest grounds ahead of the World Cup, they were instead allocated a game against one another on a ground about 45km from the SCG.

That is not to decry the ground at Blacktown. It serves western Sydney superbly. It is an excellent facility with a fine pitch and fine nets, in a charming, scenic location.

But these sides are not looking for charm. They are looking for exposure to the quality of opposition that could catch them cold in global events. They are looking to familiarise themselves with the biggest grounds, to avoid any sense of being overawed when the major tournaments start.

While Scotland at least have a chance to take on West Indies at the SCG on Thursday, Ireland will be back here again to play Bangladesh, currently ninth in the ODI rankings.

It is hard to avoid the sense that the Associates are at the World Cup on sufferance. Only after a public backlash did the ICC alter its original decision to restrict this World Cup to 10 nations and it has already been confirmed that only 10 will take part in 2019.

The ICC has provided a theoretical pathway for Associates to qualify but if Full Members continue to restrict the top teams to a starvation diet of matches, they will have almost no chance of improving their ranking enough to come close.

Ireland, for example, have played 26 ODIs since the end of the 2011 World Cup. Eight of those have been against Scotland and only nine against Full Members. A country that has done everything right in terms of its development, has consistently decent results, has seen its participation numbers increase and has developed at least three players who have been utilised by England - Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin - is not being encouraged by the ICC, it is being thwarted. For a governing body, which should nurture and encourage its developing members, to treat its own so shabbily is surely a dereliction of duty.

On the strength of the last week, Ireland are some way off the pace going into this World Cup. Having conceded 256 in 43.5 overs in a loss to Sydney Grade team Randwick-Petersham a few days ago, against Scotland their seamers, in particular, struggled for consistent lines and lengths.

It might be valid to question whether their attack will be able to live up to the expectations that now accompany Ireland. Without Rankin - who England have clung on to despite not picking him for 12 months - and the injured Tim Murtagh, there is a shortfall of experience and proven ability. Ireland's template of tying down the opposition with canny medium-pace, epitomised by the now-retired Trent Johnston, will be tested.

The key passage of this game saw Scotland thrash 106 from the final 10 overs of their innings and then claim all 10 Ireland wickets at a cost of just 60 runs. There was nothing in this surface to justify a collapse from 57 without loss to 117 all out and a 179-run loss against a side that has never beaten a Full Member in 50-over cricket, nor won a World Cup match, is cause for concern.

Not that their captain, William Porterfield, seemed overly concerned. "This game doesn't mean anything," he said afterwards. "Everyone prefers to win, but we get confidence from the way we prepare.

"I don't think we bowled too badly. We were a bit sloppy in the field, but we probably conceded only 15 or 20 more than par. And then with the bat we made some poor decisions. There are no excuses, but I was impressed by Scotland."

As well he might have been. Scotland look a vastly improved side and, in such form, might just prove the most dangerous of the Associate teams. They bowled with discipline - and a much fuller length than Ireland - fielded with skill and commitment, taking the first nine wickets of the Ireland innings with catches, and batted with controlled aggression.

If Matt Machan's century provided the foundations for this result, the efforts of Preston Mommsen, who did not captain as he had a minor knee injury, Richie Berrington, who thrashed a 37-ball half-century, and Calum MacLeod, who ensured a bright start despite early wickets, were also important.

Then Alasdair Evans, a lofty seamer who bears the nickname "Melman" (after the giraffe in the animated film Madagascar), claimed four wickets for three runs simply by landing the ball on a good length and allowing his height and the batsmen's errors to work in his favour.

For all the talk that surrounds Ireland's progress, Scotland are quietly building too. They have a bigger playing base and, before Ireland's decade-long rise, were traditionally the stronger side. If they can achieve what has so far eluded them - a famous World Cup scalp - this group of players could go on to bigger things, at least within the constraints of the current system.

"We take inspiration from the results of Ireland and Afghanistan," Machan said. "We almost want to mirror what Ireland have done over the last five to eight years. Our journey starts now. If this group of guys can hang around for the next four or five years, then hopefully we can do what Ireland did and take Scottish cricket forwards.

"Hopefully we can surprise a few people in the tournament. We don't just want to judge ourselves against the Associates, we want to challenge ourselves against the best Test nations. We've done well in Associate cricket, but to kick on again we need to be playing against England and Australia and New Zealand."

Machan, a Sussex player who represented England at youth level (he opened the batting with Jos Buttler for England U-18s) and qualifies for Scotland through his mother, compiled his innings with a maturity that belied his 23 years. After seeing Scotland through a tricky opening, he reached a 66-ball half-century before accelerating to reach his 100 from 105 balls.

At one stage John Mooney, usually so reliable, conceded 26 from an over. After Machan pulled one long hop for six, Mooney over compensated with a full toss that suffered the same fate. With Berrington proving impressively powerful on the leg side, the pair added 98 in just 10 overs for the fifth wicket.

There were some positives for Ireland. Paul Stirling looked in fine form, young offspinner Andy McBrine bowled with skill and control and Gary Wilson took an outstanding catch to dismiss MacLeod down the leg side. But on the evidence of this performance, Scotland are the Associate team with the wind in their sails.

Ireland 2nd innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st57WTS PorterfieldPR Stirling
2nd9EC JoyceWTS Porterfield
3rd0NJ O'BrienWTS Porterfield
4th7WTS PorterfieldA Balbirnie
5th4GC WilsonA Balbirnie
6th23KJ O'BrienGC Wilson
7th2JF MooneyKJ O'Brien
8th0JF MooneyAR Cusack
9th15JF MooneyMC Sorensen
10th0JF MooneyCA Young