Ireland captain William Porterfield says he wants his team to finish on top of the table in the ICC Intercontinental Cup as his side gears up for the match against Hong Kong in Belfast from 30 August to 2 September.
Ireland has 60 points, one less than top-placed Afghanistan in the points table, but is in a better position than Afghanistan since it has played one match less in the eight-team tournament, which is the pathway to Test cricket.
The winning side will get an opportunity to play the 10th-ranked Test side in the ICC Test Challenge in 2018 and then try to acquire Test status until the next event in 2022, provided it wins the challenge.
Ireland has garnered full points with three impressive wins so far. It defeated Namibia by an innings and 107 runs, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by an innings and 26 runs and Papua New Guinea by 145 runs.
Porterfield said the pitch could have a role on how the match pans out but backed his team’s experience to come out on top.
“We will have to see what pitch has been prepared. Some pitches that we have played on have not seamed that much and with the Kookaburra ball, the pitches can seem quite flat. We have a great amount of experience but also have an exciting young attack with Tim Murtagh as well, so I am looking forward to seeing them bowl,” Porterfield added.
Hong Kong captain Babar Hayat understands that taking on four-time champion Ireland on home turf will be tough.
“I think it will be a big challenge for us. They are the top Associate team, and add to that playing in their home conditions, so obviously it’s as tough a test as one can get in four-day cricket. They start as favorites but our aim is to put up a performance that will make people in Hong Kong proud. We don’t play a lot of four-day cricket so this game is a great opportunity to work on being more patient,” Hayat said.
The Hong Kong captain said he was not worried about the points standings, in which his team is currently on fourth position with 30 points from three matches.
Hong Kong defeated the UAE by 276 runs, lost to Namibia by 114 runs while its match against Scotland was abandoned without a ball being bowled.
“We’re not paying too much attention at this stage as to who is around us on the ladder. We still believe we can challenge for a higher position but for now there won’t be a bigger challenge than Ireland so we can do nothing else other than look ahead to this game. They have an experienced side – their captain Porterfield and Ed Joyce have made a lot of runs at this level so we will have to take a close look at our plans for those guys and be disciplined,” Hayat said.
The four-day first-class fixture will be followed by two Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is), which will be staged at Bready on 5 and 6 September.
Ireland is ranked 15th on the MRF Tyres ICC T20I Team Rankings, while Hong Kong is 17th – 19 points behind. If Ireland wins both the matches, then it will rise to 52 points – two behind 14th ranked UAE – but if the series result is reversed, then Hong Kong will move ahead of Oman in 16th position, while Ireland will drop to 38 points (one ahead of Hong Kong).
Ireland: William Porterfield (captain), John Anderson, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Edmund Joyce, Timothy Murtagh, Andrew McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien, Paul Stirling, Gary Wilson, Craig Young.
Hong Kong: Babar Hayat (captain), Mehmood Adil, Tanwar Afzal, Nadeem Ahmed, Tanveer Ahmed, Mohammad Aizaz, Christopher James Carter, Ehsan Khan, Nizakhat Khan, Waqas Khan, Ehsan Nawaz, Anshuman Rath, Ninad Shah, Shahid Wasif.
Umpires: Greg Brathwaite and Mark Hawthorne; Reserve umpire: Alan Neill.
Match referee: David Jukes.