IRELAND begin their World Cup final qualifying campaign against Oman in Bulawayo today with further Group B matches against Scotland, Sri Lanka and the UAE to follow, aiming for a top three finish to proceed to the Super Six.

Two victories should be enough to get out of the group but the key matches for the Boys in Green are likely to be against tournament favourites Sri Lanka on Sunday, and the West Indies and host Zimbabwe in the Super Six.

Only the top two sides in the Super Six qualify for the 10-team World Cup proper to be held in India later this year.

Ireland suffered heartache in Zimbabwe five years ago when a defeat by Afghanistan meant no final hurrah for what was left of the ‘golden generation’ and missing out on qualification again would mean at least 12 years between World Cup appearances.

So it’s understandable that coach Heinrich Malan has focused his resources on what is seen by Cricket Ireland as the “pinnacle event” of their summer, to the detriment of the Test match at Lord’s.

The West Indies and Zimbabwe started their Group A campaigns with wins in Harare yesterday  - comfortably beating the USA and Nepal.

First innings totals of 290 and 297 in those matches suggest this tournament may see higher average scores on better pitches than in 2018, playing into Ireland’s strong suit of batting triumvirate Paul Stirling, Harry Tector and Lorcan Tucker.

While the seam attack may struggle for wickets in the conditions, the renaissance of George Dockrell as a left-arm spinner, backing up fellow tweakers Andy McBrine and Ben White is an unexpected bonus for Malan and skipper Andy Balbirnie.

KEY MAN: Harry Tector

PREDICTION: Ireland and West Indies to miss out as Sri Lanka top the Super Six, with Zimbabwe grabbing the other World Cup spot

Group A matches:
Today: Ireland v Oman, Bulawayo Athletic Club
June 21: Ireland v Scotland, Queen’s Sports Club, Bulawayo
June 25: Sri Lanka v Ireland, Queen’s Sports Club, Bulawayo
June 27: Ireland v UAE, Bulawayo Athletic Club

All matches start at 8am Irish time

Super Six starts on June 29