Backed into a corner, Ireland faced a must-win encounter with Scotland in Harare, and their 25-run win has given the team "a lifeline of hope" according to batsman Andy Balbirnie. Balbirnie's hundred shored up Ireland's innings after an early wobble, helping them to reach 271 for 9. They then bowled Scotland out for 246, with Boyd Rankin taking four vital wickets.
"We've given ourselves a lifeline of hope, and there's a lot of cricket to be played this week," Balbirnie, who was named Player of the Match, said. "We've done the job today."
While Balbirnie got the accolades, he insisted that fast bowler Rankin had really made the difference. "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 first two overs gave no hint of the destruction he would later sow among Scotland's middle order. Working with, rather than against, Rankin's pace and bounce, Kyle Coetzer smashed three fours in his first over, and three more - from successive deliveries - in his second. Rankin's figures read 2-0-24-0, but in his next seven and a half overs he took 4 for 39, including three wickets in 11 deliveries across two spells. Most importantly, he removed Coetzer for 61 as the Scotland captain threatened to take the game away from Ireland with some daring batting.
"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."
Rankin also removed George Munsey and Craig Wallace, and then returned once more to have No. 11 Brad Wheal caught behind. While Rankin closed the game out, Balbirnie's efforts had been vital to setting up their match-winning total.
Entering early after Paul Stirling's dismissal in the first over, Balbirnie helped to steady Ireland and put on 138 with Niall O'Brien, equalling the Irish record partnership for the third wicket.
"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," Balbirnie said. "Likewise Kevin [O'Brien] when he came in. 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.
"We were probably a bit disappointed we didn't get 290-plus. Scotland bowled quite well at the death, quite cleverly. We just kept losing wickets. But on a pitch like that 270 is quite a good score. We haven't seen too many high-scoring games at Harare Sports Club, so we knew if we bowled quite well we could contain them."