Ireland’s cricketers face serious test against Afghanistan
Intercontinental Cup encounter in India set to be played in extreme heat
Ireland batsman Andrew Balbirnie is in line to play against Afghanistan in the Intercontinental Cup clash in India. Photograph: Barry Chambers/Inpho
Ireland’s cricketers face a gruelling test of both their cricketing ability and physical endurance over the next four days in India as they take on Afghanistan in a key Intercontinental Cup clash.
Afghanistan are hosting the game in the Delhi suburb of Greater Noida, where temperatures are set to hit 40 degrees on all four days of the match, which gets underway at 10am local time on Tuesday (5.30am Irish time).
The match sees the top two sides in the Intercontinental Cup meet with control of the competition up for grabs. And considering that the top side in the table come the end of the competition later this year will get a chance to play off for a shot at Test cricket, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Ireland are 19 points clear of Afghanistan after four games (80 plays 61) but John Bracewell’s side face a far tougher run in with matches against the Netherlands and Scotland, albeit both are home fixtures. Afghanistan are away to Hong Kong and at home to the UAE in their final two fixtures and will look to gain full points from both.
Ireland have claimed maximum 20-point hauls in their four games to date, including winning by an innings in their last two – away to Namibia and at home to the UAE.
Afghanistan, though, have had the upper hand on Ireland lately, winning the recent ODI series 3-2 and also claiming a clean sweep in the three-match T20 series.
The longer format has always been a strong suit for Ireland and they have dominated the Intercontinental Cup since its inception in 2004, losing just two of 36 matches and winning the tournament four times out of six stagings.
One of those losses came at a neutral venue to Afghanistan, when they ended Ireland’s six-year unbeaten run in Sri Lanka in 2010.
Afghanistan went on to win the title that year but Ireland gained revenge with a comprehensive 122-run victory against them in the 2013 final in Dubai.
Conditions in India look to favour Afghanistan this time around, especially as their contingent of spin bowlers have enjoyed success lately on the turning wickets in Delhi.
The recent one-day games saw the spinners dominate, with Afghanistan’s teenage leg-spinner Rashid Khan causing plenty of problems for Ireland’s batsmen.
With left-arm chinaman spinner Zahir Khan and experienced off-spinner Mohammad Nabi also in their ranks, Ireland captain William Porterfield is well aware of the challenge facing his side, although they have had plenty of time to get used to the wickets in Greater Noida.
“It will be a big test for us – the conditions, the turning surface against a side that has a lot of spinners. We’ve been here for three or four weeks, played a lot of cricket on the same ground, so we could not have asked for better preparation,” said Porterfield.
“We have seen a lot of Afghanistan in one-day and T20 cricket recently. These conditions suit them and we will have to fall back on [spinners] George Dockrell and Jacob Mulder and hope the batsmen put the runs on the board. I feel not too many runs will decide the game. If we pull it off against Afghanistan, we will be in a great position in the I-Cup.”
Ireland have been hit by the loss of all-rounder Kevin O’Brien through injury, with Pembroke batsman Andrew Balbirnie in line to bolster the middle order.
Opening bowler Boyd Rankin was also ruled out through injury earlier on the tour, but Ireland are well stocked with seam options. The key selection decisions will surround the make-up of Ireland’s spin attack with off-spinner Andrew McBrine and leg-spinner Jacob Mulder offering Bracewell options to go alongside Dockrell and Paul Stirling.
AFGHANISTAN: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Afsar Khan, Mohammad Ahmadzai, Dawlat Zadran, Hashmatullah Shaidi, Mohammad Javedi, Mohammad Nabi, Nasir Jamal, Noor Ali, Rahmat Shahi, Rashid Khan, Shabir Noori, Mohammad Shahzad, Zahir Khan.
IRELAND: William Porterfield (capt), John Anderson, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Tim Murtagh, Andrew McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Jacob Mulder, Andrew Balbirnie, Niall O’Brien, Paul Stirling, Gary Wilson, Craig Young.