In front of broadcast cameras and a crowd of around 1,500, Balbirnie scored 105, his second career century, and Niall O’Brien contributed 70 in his 99th ODI as the two batsmen put on 138 runs for the third wicket before Kevin O’Brien’s 27-ball 46 runs cameo lifted Ireland to 271 for nine after they were sent in to bat.
Ireland’s victory means they remain in the hunt for a place in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. They now have four points with one match against Afghanistan (on 23 March) remaining, while Scotland remain on five points with a match against the Windies (on 21 March) in hand.
Zimbabwe lead the points table with five points and meet the Windies on Monday in a match which will strengthen their chances of qualifying for the World Cup provided they beat the two-time former world champions. In the scenario of the Windies winning the match, the tournament will remain wide open and any two of the five leading sides can qualify for the ICC’s pinnacle 50-over tournament which will be held in England and Wales from 30 May to 14 July.
Balbirnie exuded satisfaction after collecting his Player of the Match award.
“I tried to be positive and busy at the start, quite compact, got off the mark as soon as possible and tried to rotate the strike, that’s what I tried to do throughout my innings. It certainly was not a highlights package, I had to get the nitty-gritty stuff and a lot of singles. But I come away with a hundred in a must-win game, that’s very satisfying,” he said.
“It was not that easy a pitch to get in on, so the longer I was there, the easier it was for guys like Niall and Kevin, and they got a run-a-ball or more, so I just thought I could bat as long and get a score and others can come and bat positively and that is what happened.
“As a batting unit we needed to perform after Friday and we did that. We know Afghanistan, they have had an up and down tournament but they are world class players and we will have to be at the top of our game,” he added.
Scotland captain Coetzer felt his side could have chased the target. “It was one of the best wickets in the tournament so far. It was a chase-able score on that surface, but we will take things out of this game and we have to move on,” he said.
Showing confidence ahead of the next game against the Windies, Coetzer said: “We believe we can win that game and we have to, we have to just make sure we turn up the game and play a good game and put the Windies under pressure.”
Sent in to bat, Ireland were in some bother when Paul Stirling departed on the final delivery of the opening over and then William Porterfield failed to capitalise on a dropped catch to drag Brad Wheal’s delivery onto his stumps to leave his side at 45 for two.
However, Balbirnie and Niall O’Brien repaired the damage when they put on 138 runs to equal Ireland’s third wicket record stand by Balbirnie and Ed Joyce against Zimbabwe in Hobart during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
The partnership ended when O’Brien was run-out after a run-a-ball 70 with nine fours, while Balbirnie was the fourth batsman out after scoring 105 from 146 balls with 10 fours. Barbirnie’s first 50 runs came off 80 balls and included four fours, while his second 50 came from 60 balls with five fours.
Kevin O’Brien later belted five fours and two sixes in a 27-ball 46, but no other batsman could make any worthwhile contribution as Ireland added 145 runs in the last 20 overs, including 69 in the last 10 overs on a good batting track.
For Scotland, fast bowler Wheal and Safyaan Sharif took three and two wickets conceding 43 and 52 runs, respectively.
Scotland, in their run-chase, made a brisk start when they raced to 94 in the 19th over before losing their second wicket of Calum MacLeod (21) after Matthew Cross (18) had departed at the score of 26.
Boyd Rankin, who was earlier punished by Coetzer for three successive fours and then dropped him when the batsman was on 41, came back strongly for his second spell when he first disturbed the furniture behind Coetzer, then had Gregory Munsey caught smartly by Niall O’Brien and finally caught Craig Wallance off his own bowling as the Scots slumped to 122 for five, which soon became 132 for six.
Richie Berrington and Sharif put up some resistance with their 51-run seventh-wicket partnership and then a late charge by Watt gave Scotland a glimmer of hope before a superb catch by wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien saw the end of Wheal, leaving Watt unbeaten in a total of 246 all out in 47.4 overs.
Ranking finished with four for 63, Tim Murtagh bagged two for 51 and Simi Singh snapped up two for 33.
This was Ireland’s 15th win over Scotland in 21 matches with one no-result.
Scores in brief:
Ireland beat Scotland by 25 runs, Harare Sports Club
Ireland 271-9, 50 overs (Andrew Balbirnie 105, Niall O’Brien 70, Kevin O’Brien 46; Brad Wheal 3-43, Safyaan Sharif 2-52)
Scotland 246 all out in 47.4 overs (Kyle Cozter 61, Richie Berrington 44, Safyaan Sharif 34, Mark Watt 31 not out, Calum MacLeod 21, Boyd Rankin 4-63, Simi Singh 2-33, Barry McCarthy 2-44, Tim Murtagh 2-51)
Player of the Match – Andrew Balbirnie (Ireland)
·Monday, 19 March – Windies v Zimbabwe (S6), Harare Sports Club
·Tuesday, 20 March – UAE v Afghanistan (S6), Old Hararians
·Wednesday, 21 March – Windies v Scotland (S6), Harare Sports Club
·Thursday, 22 March - UAE v Zimbabwe (S6), Harare Sports Club
· Friday, 23 March – Ireland v Afghanistan (S6), Harare Sports Club)
· Sunday, 25 March – Final; Harare Sports Club
Super Six points table