Where to from here for Ireland, Scotland?
Ryan Bailey contemplates the highs of Ireland and the lows of Scotland, as the Intercontinental Cup subsides and the World Twenty20 qualifiers loom.
A change in format and venue, however, there was very little reversal of Scotland's fortunes as their wretched fortnight came to a feeble end as a largely second-string Ireland needed just thirty-eight minutes on the fourth day of their rain truncated InterContinental clash to wrap up a comprehensive innings and 44 runs victory.
While credit must go to the understrength hosts for another domineering and ruthless performance, this was another damaging and hugely concerning defeat for Peter Steindl's side.
Not even the sodden autumnal Irish weather could prevent the Scots from capitulating with the bat, toiling in the field and slumping to their eight loss on the bounce in all formats.
None of Ireland's five victories on their way to December's final will have been as straightforward and as comfortable as this, once again underlining their status as the dominant force in the associate game.
From the moment William Porterfield, lining out in his first Intercontinental Cup game in six years, tossed the coin into the fresh, damp Dublin air on Wednesday morning, this proved to be a severely one-sided contest between the two celtic neighbours.
It's been a forgettable tour, albeit a brief one, of the Emerald Isle for the Scots who have had their hopes of automatic qualification for the 2015 World Cup and slim chances of booking a place in Dubai's I-Cup Final decimated by their ruthless opponents in the space of seven days.
Although several promising young players are continually coming through the ranks, the failure to fulfil initial potential is an all too familiar tale for Scottish cricketers. The fact that several of their county-based players were absent for this thumping in Dublin cannot be overlooked but the likes of Richie Berrington and Gordon Goudie among others, who have been around the international squad for a while now, are hugely inconsistent performers on the big stage.
The past fortnight has only highlighted their dependence on Kyle Coetzer, arguably the only accomplished and proven performer in the squad. The Northants batsman is currently nursing a wrist injury and the void left by the 29-year-old is simply too large to replace – on this evidence anyway.
His regular but unavoidable absenteeism places greater emphasis on vastly inexperienced and largely untried teammates. Stand-in skipper Preston Mommsen has emerged as a highly capable batsman at this level and his innings of 92* in Belfast was one of the standouts from a tour of woe with the willow for the majority while big things are expected of Sussex's Matt Machan and fast-bowler Iain Wardlaw, who are both beneficiaries of a new set of eligibility laws.
However, the manner of the defeat will hurt Steindl most and while the future may look bright beneath the surface, the harsh nature of the top-level is a sharp learning curve for the youngsters so much is expected of.
While the likes of Machan and Wardlaw are only embarking on their international careers, the next couple of months could prove to be defining ones for those who have provided little more than false hope.
The top six contributed a mere 87 runs between them at Clontarf, during which the visitors lasted just 110 overs, further underlining the one-sided nature of this contest. However, above all, the morale in the Scottish camp must be plummeting at a fierce rate of knots.
With the World Twenty20 Qualifiers fast approaching as well as their final chance to book a berth in the 2015 World Cup on the horizon, this is a make-or-break period for those sporting the thistle on their shirt Steindl is all too aware.
"It's bitterly disappointing to lose in the way we did and the batters in particular didn't apply themselves as they wanted. It would be easy to rant and rave but sometimes you have to take a step back and take the emotion out of things." the Scottish coach said.
The Australian, inevitably, defended his players and claimed they never recovered mentally from the last-over heartbreak in Stormont, a defeat which saw their hopes of automatic World Cup qualification go up in smoke.
"Too many guys were struggling for form and confidence. At the end of the day they're all good cricketers and a couple of years ago we were coming out on top in these games but we have to get back to winning way."
"We'll have a two-week break now and it comes at a good time for them to away and clear their minds ahead of November."
In complete contrast, Ireland continue to go from strength to strength and could complete an associate nation clean sweep should they avoid defeat in the I-Cup Final against Afghanistan and defend their Twenty20 qualification tournament crown.
The hosts outclassed Scotland in all departments from the outset despite having to do without Joyce, Murtagh and Dockrell among others. Speaking shortly after watching his side complete a satisfactory victory, Phil Simmons admitted the blooding of youngsters Young, McCarter and Richardson has been the most beneficial aspect of an unbeaten seven days.
"We've been looking for this and that's the good thing about this format, it gives us the opportunity to see the youngsters coming out and doing what we want them to do, and what we think they can do." Simmons explained.
While the circumstances meant that the work-out may not have been as intense as the former West-Indian would have liked, Simmons admitted he was bemused by their opponent's poor performance.
"I don't know, I honestly don't know – I can't say for them. I just know we've played well but as you mentioned, it's not been a performance by them, but I can't say why."
Ireland will now enjoy a two-week rest, during which their county-based players will conclude the domestic season and look ahead to a busy but exciting winter of international cricket safe in the knowledge that it's been another successful year.
On the other hand, Scotland must dust themselves down and produce the performances collectively that they are more than capable of. While this week's performances must not be erased from the memory, Peter Steindl and his management must install new confidence in their young charges.
It's a case of now-or-never for the majority in the squad and December's World Twenty20 qualifiers could prove to be the platform required to fulfil their potential or else the prospect of simply being consigned to the history books is on the horizon.
<b>Ryan Bailey at Clontarf</b>
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