The draw for the 2019 Cricket World Cup qualifying stage has been made, with Ireland in the same group as two-time winners West Indies.
England automatically qualified for the final tournament as hosts, and they were joined by the next seven highest-ranked nations for the new-look ten team tournament.
This meant the West Indies narrowly missed out on automatic qualification for the tournament as they sat ninth in the ODI rankings on the cut-off date of September 30 last year.
The 2016 World T20 champions will be red-hot favourites to qualify but Ireland will also fancy their chances of making it.
Despite failing to make it through the group stages in the last two World Cups, they did beat the West Indies by four wickets in the 2015 tournament and that will give them the belief they can do it again.
However, the controversial decision from the International Cricket Council to reduce the competition to just ten nations meant that nations like Ireland, the Netherlands and Afghanistan will find it extremely difficult to be part of the sport’s showpiece event.
In the same group as Ireland and West Indies are the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, and the winners of the ICC World Cricket League Division Two. The teams competing in that are Canada, Kenya, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, and United Arab Emirates.
The top three nations, after a round-robin stage, will go through to a ‘Super Six’ along with the top three from the other group, which contains Scotland, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, and whoever finishes second in the WCL Division Two.
After that, the top two nations will book their place at the World Cup alongside the eight already qualified.
Ireland captain William Porterfield has admitted the qualification process will be tough.
He said, via BBC Sport:
“It is going to be a really hard-fought tournament with nearly all the sides in with a genuine chance of qualification.
“It is a pity there are only two places up for grabs.
“We have got a good record against the West Indies, beating them in the 2015 World Cup, so we’ll take confidence from that.
“The Netherlands have got some big players back in recent times, so they will be tough, while Papua New Guinea are improving all the time.”
Things are going well, with a six-wicket victory over Scotland in their last outing making it three wins from three. This followed two wins over the UAE last week.
Ireland play the Scots again on Thursday.
The qualifiers are in Zimbabwe and start on March 4
Peter Reynolds, Pundit Arena