Ireland aim for safe World Cup passage
Ireland will attempt to secure qualification for their third consecutive World Cup by beating Netherlands in two ICC WCL Championship fixtures over the next three days and their captain, William Porterfield, has emphasised how important the achievement would be in the continuing development of Irish cricket.
The top two teams in the WCL Championship will qualify automatically for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Ireland currently head the table, two points ahead of Scotland with two games in hand and three clear of Netherlands, who are themselves eyeing a direct route to the tournament.
The two fixtures will take place in Amstelveen, with Ireland unbeaten in their last six ODIs against Netherlands. Both matches will be streamed live on the ICC website.
"These matches mean everything for both sides as both of us must win," Porterfield said. "The Dutch have got to win to keep things in their hands while we know that two wins will get us to Australia and New Zealand.
"Cricket Ireland has set out a strategic plan to be playing Test cricket by 2020 and that involves a lot of hard yards. One of the boxes we have got to tick is winning events like this. Doing that is very important for Irish cricket as it will give us the profile to help bring more people to the game and that will hopefully bring in funding that will keep the game growing."
Ed Joyce spoke to ESPNcricinfo earlier in the week about the difficulties Ireland continue to face in securing matches against the Full Member nations. Exposure during global ICC tournaments - they have been at the last four, including World Twenty20s - has been vital, with memorable victories over Pakistan and England at the last two World Cups.
Cricket Ireland has been very transparent in its aims to develop the game, setting out a blueprint to achieve Test status by 2020. For Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland's chief executive, it is all about "being first through the gate" and he said that failure to win the WCL Championship would be "a backward step". Qualification would help Ireland's forward planning in the next 18 months, as well as bring a $1 million preparation grant from the ICC.
Should Ireland lose either or both of the two games against Netherlands, they will have to beat Scotland when the two teams meet in the final round of matches in September. The six countries who do not warrant automatic World Cup spots will take part in a qualifying event in New Zealand next year for two remaining places.
"It would be an advantage to go through now, or even in September rather than through the Qualifier because it gives [coach] Phil Simmons a chance to identify his squad as far out from 2015 as possible," Deutrom said. "We can set up Full Member opponents and get planning in place from 18 months out rather than 12 months out and it is all part of the way we are thinking.
"We do not just want to qualify though. We do not just want to do that and think 'we've qualified, now let's sit back and rest on our laurels'. We want to do it as winners of the World Cricket League Championship, as to do that would be matching our expectations and those of our government backers, our sponsors and our fans.
"Everyone has invested in us and continues to do so, and so, for us, it is all about being first through the gate and cementing our place as the top Associate, something we have been for the last four or five years. Anything less would be regarded as a disappointment and a backward step."
Netherlands have competed in four World Cups, including the last three, and will be aiming to record their first victory over Ireland in 50-over cricket since 2006. Their captain, Peter Borren, played in that game and knows that another victory would take them above Scotland and substantially improve their chances of finishing in the top two.
"We have got four games left, two of them against Ireland and two against Canada, and if we win three of them then that should be enough," he said.
"For any country, the World Cup is the ultimate stage and for Associate teams like us it is our chance to get exposure and to compete with the big boys. For Dutch cricket it is huge because in order to expand the game we have got to be on the global stage as often as possible."