Ireland face Afghanistan in crucial ICup clash
Afghanistan will host Ireland for an Intercontinental Cup fixture at their home ground of Greater Noida near New Delhi from Tuesday that could play a crucial role in determining which team gets a shot at playing Test cricket.
Afghanistan will be hoping that the familiar conditions help since it needs to gain the maximum of 20 points that will take it ahead of the opposition on the points table. Ireland is currently at the top of the table with 80 points while Afghanistan is on 61 points, after four matches each.
The side that wins the Intercontinental Cup 2015-17 will play the bottom-ranked Test team on the Test Team Rankings in the Test Challenge in 2018 and try to acquire Test status until the next event in 2022, provided it wins the challenge.
Afghanistan has scored identical innings and 36 runs wins over the Netherlands and Namibia earlier in the league. It also defeated Papua New Guinea by 201 runs but failed to get the first innings lead against it as well as Scotland in a rain-hit drawn match. Afghanistan’s remaining two fixtures are against the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.
On the other hand, Ireland has earned full points in its four outings – scoring innings wins over Namibia and the United Arab Emirates apart from outright wins over Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea. It is still to play the Netherlands and Scotland.
Afghanistan defeated Ireland 3-0 in a Twenty20 International series and 3-2 in One Day Internationals before the four-day fixture and captain Asghar Stanikzai was confident of carrying on with the success in the upcoming match, which will be live-streamed on icc-cricket.com from 10 a.m. local time (0430 GMT).
“We will have the advantage of venue as we know the pitch and conditions. These are Asian conditions and spinners will play a key role in this match. Our advantage is that we played one four-day match here against Namibia and won. The boys know the importance of the match and are desperately looking to gain 20 points.
“We recently had a great four-day domestic (Ahmad Shah Abdali) tournament with each of our players getting to play six to ten matches. In addition, we have had preparation camps and played international matches, so the team is well prepared.
“Ireland is a strong competitor and I feel this will be the best and most important game in the entire Intercontinental Cup league as both teams can top the league. Our strength is spin bowling and most of our batsmen are in good form. It’s a matter of performing well on the day.
Ireland captain William Porterfield understands the spin challenge from Afghanistan, which boasts Chinaman spinner Zahir Khan, leg-spinner Rashid Khan and experienced off-spinner Mohammad Nabi.
“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.
“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.”
Zahir and Dockrell lead the list of wicket-takers in the tournament with 19 wickets each while Ireland boasts of two batsmen among the top five. Ed Joyce is the leading scorer with 592 runs while Porterfield is fifth with 349 runs. Mohammad Shahzad is the leading scorer for Afghanistan with 308 runs so far.
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (captain), 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 (captain), 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.
Umpires: C.K. Nandan and Ahmad Pakteen. Reserve umpire: Bismillah Jan.
Match referee: Graeme Labrooy.