IRELAND were facing the prospect an early flight home from Zimbabwe last night after suffering a surprise five-wicket loss to Oman in Bulawayo, in their opening match of the World Cup qualifying tournament.

Two victories from the remaining three Group B games against Scotland, Sri Lanka and the UAE should still be enough to carry the Boys in Green through to the Super Six of the 10-team event but there is little margin for error.

George Dockrell’s highest international score of 91 not out, and yet another half century from Harry Tector, helped Ireland to a respectable 281-7 on an Athletic Club pitch that offered some slow spin and appeared two-paced.

But the Ireland attack never looked like containing the Oman batters despite the best efforts of seamers Josh Little and Mark Adair, who shared four of the five wickets to fall, and the Gulf side cruised over the line with 11 balls to spare.

“I’m very disappointed because we felt like we had a good score,” skipper Andy Balbirnie said. “To get 280 in a one-day game is pretty good but they were hard to bowl to at times.”

“It's a long tournament and we need to get back into it quickly.”

Hopefully it will be a long tournament but if Ireland lose to a strong Scotland side across town at the Queen’s Sports Club tomorrow (WEDS) they will either need to beat tournament favourites Sri Lanka on Sunday or they can start packing.

To underline how hard that would be, Sri Lanka opened their campaign with a crushing 175-run victory over the UAE.

Two things are already clear, Ireland will want to chase targets rather than bat first, and there will be no easy games in a tournament that is likely to be far more competitive than the World Cup proper in India later this year.

Put into bat, Ireland had 51 on the board inside nine overs but then lost two wickets in as many balls as Paul Stirling brainlessly pulled to deep square leg - a fielder had been moved there the ball before - and Andy McBrine swatted baseball-style to mid-off.

Balbirnie, in desperate need of runs, found only seven from 19 balls before he was caught behind, while Lorcan Tucker’s lively 26 from 18 balls ended when he played back to a ball from left-arm spinner Ayaan Khan that pitched leg and hit middle.

Tector carried on serenely, content to work the spinners into the gaps - mostly down the ground - as he added 79 for the fifth wicket with Dockrell, giving Ireland what should have been a decent platform to launch a happy hour blitz.

But when he was caught at long on for 52 in the 38th over there was no appreciable lift off and despite bright cameos from Gareth Delany and Adair the latter stages of the innings missed the absent Curtis Campher.

No blame for the defeat can be laid at Dockrell’s door, though: his cleverly-paced 89-ball innings, culminating with a second six, was his best for Ireland, as well as his highest, and he was the only one of the four spinners used to take a wicket.