World Cup Qualifier: Windies and Ireland in top-of-the-table clash
West Indies and Ireland face off in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe on Saturday with the target of booking their places in the Super Sixes.
Both teams have won two in two in the tournament so far, meaning their spots in the next round are more or less certain, but whoever wins this one will put the matter beyond debate.
This is the first time Windies are playing the qualifiers, and they have proved their prowess as the most experienced Test-playing nation in the mix. A whirlwind 123 from Chris Gayle and Shimron Hetmyer’s 127 set up their win over the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which Jason Holder sealed with a five-wicket haul.
Without Gayle, the Windies faced a bit of a scare against Papua New Guinea when they were reduced to 53 for four chasing 200, but knocks of 99 not out and 49 not out by Jason Holder and Shai Hope respectively ensured they got home with six wickets in hand.
For Ireland, things could barely have gone much better. Helped by captain William Porterfield (47) and Andy Balbirinie (68), they posted 268 for seven in their opening match against the Netherlands and then managed to bowl the opposition out for 149 as Tim Murtagh picked up three wickets.
Against PNG, Ireland had little trouble chasing down 236 as Porterfield’s 111 and Ed Joyce’s half-century carried them home.
While Ireland haven't had too many things to worry about, the Windies presents them with a big challenge, one that they overcame in style during the last World Cup in 2015. On that occasion, in Nelson, Windies put up 304 for seven, but Paul Stirling, Joyce and Niall O’Brien played big hands to take Ireland over the line by four wickets in just 45.5 overs.
Both teams will remember that, and while Windies have been in good nick, they will know that collapses of the sort they suffered in the PNG game might hurt them against Ireland.
William Porterfield (Ireland): With one century and one half-century already in the tournament, the Ireland captain has shown excellent form. The left-hander's presence at the top of the order alongside the explosive Stirling, another experienced hand, is crucial to Ireland's success. The onus will be on Porterfield to see off the new ball and play the role of the anchor for Ireland.
Chris Gayle (Windies): He missed the PNG game, but his 123 against the UAE was a typically violent knock. Everyone knows what Gayle is capable of, and if he stays for any length of time, the game could get away from Ireland very quickly.
The forecast isn't the greatest, as thunderstorms are expected in Harare on Saturday and the humidity is expected to be high. The pitch could also be on the slow side, and run-scoring may not be as easy as it has been at some of the other venues.
Ireland: William Porterfield (c), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien (wk), Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Gary Wilson
Windies: Jason Holder (c), Jason Mohammed, Devendra Bishoo, Carlos Brathwaite, Sheldon Cottrell, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope (wk), Evin Lewis, Nikita Miller, Ashley Nurse, Rovman Powell, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Kesrick Williams